‘Word processors are a wonderful writing tool. But there is no substitute for a careful and planned approach to writing.'
Writing an article that will hook your readers and keep them reading to the end is not just about waiting for inspiration to strike or burning the midnight oil the night before deadline. The reality is, good writing takes discipline. It takes time. And it takes careful planning.
Adopt the seven writing habits in this article and you'll find it easier to overcome writers' block and to stay on track once you start writing. The result will be a more polished and professional piece of writing. Although this article focuses on article writing, you can successfully apply these techniques to any writing from column writing or report writing to letter writing or web writing.
To get a clear picture of who will be reading your piece of writing put yourself in your readers' shoes. Are your readers young, old, educated, knowledgeable of the subject matter? Are they likely to be feeling receptive or hostile towards your topic? How will they use your article?
If you're writing an article, study several editions of the magazine or journal you want to submit your article to so you can get a feel for the type of article the magazine publishes and the style of writing. Also check the magazine's website for submission, or author, guidelines. These guidelines will give you important information such as how many words the magazine prefers for their articles, what type of article they generally publish and a profile of their readers.
Ask yourself 'Why am I writing this particular article?' The answer to this question will become your aim. It is the main message you want to get across.
Journalists talk about finding the right angle. The angle refers to the main theme, or focus of a news story. Sometimes it's called the 'hook' as the angle is used to grab, or hook, the reader's attention to make them want to read the rest of the story. Having a clear picture of your readers, as well as why you are writing (your aim), will help you find the best angle.
When deciding what topics, or information, you will include in your article, think about what your reader needs to know. Having a clear aim and focus will help you decide what to include in your article. At all stages in the writing process, never lose sight of your audience, aim or focus.
To help you stay on track, periodically ask yourself the following questions:
Does the information reflect my aim and focus? If the answer to this question is ‘yes', you're on track.
‘Does the reader really need to know this?' If the answer is ‘no' delete this information.
Brainstorming your ideas using a whiteboard, or sheet of paper, is a time effective way to start sorting out the content. It's also a great way to overcome writer's block. At the top of your sheet write the title, aim and focus of your article. Then just write down any words or statements that come into your head that relate to your topic. Review your notes and delete anything that doesn't align with your aim or focus.
You are now ready to write an outline for your article. First, jot down headings and ‘trigger' words under the headings using the notes from your brainstorming exercise. Then order your discussion by putting your headings and sub-headings in a logical sequence. You now have an outline for your article.
There are a number of ways you could order your information. For example, presenting a problem then the solution, presenting your information chronologically, or presenting the pros followed by the cons. You can use more than one approach in your article, but be careful of using too many different approaches in the one article - the point of finding a structure is to guide the reader down a logical and predictable path, not to confuse them with too many twists and turns
By now you'll be thoroughly familiar with your topic. You haven't written a complete sentence yet, let alone a paragraph. But your article is well on the way. All you need to do now is fill in the gaps then polish your drafts.
Write the easiest section first, then develop each section one at a time following your outline and using headings where appropriate. Just get the words down. Avoid the temptation to polish as you write the first draft - this is not efficient writing practice.
Whatever you do, don't stay up all night eating blocks of dark chocolate and drinking strong espresso coffee to make it through. Your article may get written. But it won't be very good.
Leave as much time as you can between writing the first and subsequent drafts to allow time for incubation. In between drafts your subconscious will be working on your article which will be all the richer as a result of allowing this process to happen.
Revising doesn't mean rewriting. If you've planned your article carefully, you should now only need to polish and refine. Revising means checking that your paragraphs are well structured and that they follow a logical sequence. It means checking that your choice of words is appropriate for your audience and that you haven't repeated yourself. It's also the time to check headings - making sure you have enough and checking they match what follows. If you have bulleted lists, check that each item in the list is presented in the same grammatical structure.
For a truly polished article, you'll need to do several revisions. It might also be worth contracting a professional editor to help you.
Writing an Article - Case Study
|Topic:||Fitness training for pregnant women.|
|Magazine:||Fitness association magazine.|
|Readers:||Personal trainers, gym operators, receptive to topic, have knowledge of fitness generally.|
|Aim:||To encourage trainers to accommodate pregnant women in their classes.|
|Focus:||Benefits of aquarobics in pregnancy as a safe and nurturing exercise option.|
|Structure:||For each trimester of pregnancy describe suitable exercises. For each exercise discuss benefits followed by safety issues and modifications needed for each stage of pregnancy.|
Word processors are a wonderful writing tool. But there is no substitute for a careful and planned approach to writing. Adopting the efficient writing practices in this article means you'll not only work smarter but you'll produce a more effective article.
Patricia Hoyle is director of Sydney based ConciseWritingConsultancy specialising in plain English business writing and editing. ConciseWritingConsultancy also provides writing skills workshops and individual coaching.
© Patricia Hoyle, 2008
Professor Jeff Bennett, Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University.
'The consultancy saved us valuable time and energy, and delivered us with a professional, coherently structured, consistent and reader friendly medical officers' handbook.'
Ms Katherine Hill, Manager Medical Allocations, Concord Repatriation General Hospital.
Find essential writing tips in our newsletter Wise Words.
View previous newsletters:
Writing Workshops offered in Sydney & Canberra
|For expert writing and editing call 02 9360 3005