Archive for December 20th, 2008

Crafting an article

This is not about how to write your article, but how to present it. It applies whether you are publishing on paper, or to the screen. This also includes how you present your article when sending it to your editor. You don’t want him to take one look and bin it! It also applies to reports, letters, blogs or anything else you may write.

It is not enough, as many intellectuals believe, to have something important to impart to others. The finished work has to be a joy to read. The reader, when taking a quick look, has to feel he or she wants to pick it up and browse through it.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It has to be
a joy to read
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Whereas “pull-outs” may not be suitable for reports and letters, they help grab attention to longer articles. Unless it is a more learned article among, for example, academics. However the following applies to all.

You need plenty of white space in your work. Wide margins, if multi column you need reasonably wide gutters between the columns. Bear in mind that a justified right hand margin is a little old hat and really doesn’t look as nice.

Now, as most of my readers know, your paragraph should be as long as a single thought. However, for today’s people who are constantly in a hurry, long paragraphs are enough to put people off. Try and rationalise your thoughts into sections and put each section into a paragraph. Not correct English but it will keep your reader interested. This is of particular importance when presenting on screen.

Please, also bear in mind, that long sentences which ramble on, and on, and on, without ever seeming to come to an end, are very irritating and sometimes lose the reader half way through, if you get my meaning here? Keep them short. And choose your phrase. For example:

Long sentences which ramble on are irritating. Shorten them to keep reader interest. That is much better, isn’t it?

Sometimes it is better to intersperse longer sentences with shorter sentences. It improves comprehension. Keep the longer sentences to between ten and eighteen words.

Sometimes what you are thinking you are saying is not what the reader comprehends. If your article is important, write it as short as possible pretending it is costing you £10 a word. Narrow it down to its bare bones. Then read it. Is it what you mean to say? If so, use it as a guide as you flesh your article out. Bring in comparisons, new thoughts etc. But keep to the original script.

Finally we come to proof-reading. Normally two people are required for successful proof-reading. There are computer programs available that can read out to you. The method I use is to go into an empty room and read it out very loudly. And I mean very loudly. If it doesn’t flow it will jar right down the spine! I do this first until I get an article that flows.

After I have amended it, I use the spell-checker. But spell-checkers will only find certain words. It won’t catch out a “their” when you should have typed a “there”. So I read through the article once more before sending it out. When I have time I sleep on it and read it again in the morning. I often find other errors.

The first paragraph of any article or report should be a précis of what lies ahead, and the last paragraph should always sum up what has been read. When writing a letter, the last paragraph should always inform the reader as to what action you now expect. I am amused at the sales letters I get where the writer doesn’t do this. Naturally if I am not asked to take any action I just bin the letter. Nine times out of ten I would bin it anyway, but salesmen earn a good living out of the “one time”.

Choose your title carefully. It should tell you what the article is about. Bear in mind that people search on the Internet so make your heading contain at least one keyword.

People writing blogs often get the first paragraph appearing to readers who use “RSS feeds”, so make sure the paragraph explains what the article is about.

I hope you will find this article of interest. I have tried to cover all those points which will enable you to ensure that your masterpiece (whether an article, letter, report or blog) is a joy for your reader to peruse.




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