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A Guide for Writers

Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 3:03 PM

How offering formal guidance to your staff and freelancers may improve your publication’s content.

By Denise Gable

How much guidance do you give to those who write for your publication? The articles many of us publish may be written by staff members or by outside authors. Staff writers generally know what kind of article is expected from them. Quite often publications provide outside writers with an outline of the submission process.

Less attention seems to be paid to offering guidance on how to compose an article. How to write an article is left to the writer. The presumption is that a writer should know how to write an article.

That might not be the best assumption in all cases, though. Even experienced writers can become caught up in cranking out copy and lose sight of what rightfully should be a methodical approach toward its creation. Offering formal guidance to staff and outside writers alike could actually improve the quality of the written product that you get.

What to Do?

Many books have been written on how to write articles. Just enter "how to write an article" in Amazon's search bar and you'll find more books than you'd want to count. They cover all kinds of articles for all kinds of purposes. Many, however, are aimed at freelancers, advising them on how to get their articles published.

There is quite a variety of approaches. For instance, titles include everything from “How to Write an Article within 5 to 10 Minutes!” to “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks.”

Only some of the books go into helpful detail on the process of writing. One book that does is How to Write Articles for Newspapers and Magazines by Dawn B. Sova. Here is the table of contents from her book:

--Getting Started
--Gathering Information
--Writing the Effective Article Lead
--Building an Effective Foundation
--Creating Invisible Transitions
--Choosing the Right Word(s)
--Description: Creating Images for Readers
--Using Quotations Wisely
--Editing the Article Successfully
--The Final Version

A Detailed Formula

Longtime Editors Only author Peter P. Jacobi cautions us that a methodical process of writing is needed for best results. He warns against a "rush" process just to get the job done.

Jacobi says, "Rush results from one or the other of two emotional approaches to writing. One approach is to avoid writing your story by putting the task off until the last possible moment, which leads to your completing the assignment in a rush to meet the deadline. The other is to get the writing done as quickly as possible because you want to get it out of the way, leading you to rush the task, thereby freeing you to get on to other tasks."

According to Jacobi, this occurs from either momentarily forgetting or momentarily ignoring what one already knows about writing. "It's a process. A process requires time. It requires care and method," he adds.

Jacobi advises that the writing process includes eight steps, "none of which should be overlooked," he admonishes.

The Jacobi Process

Step 1

You need an idea, a subject that you feel needs to be done or that, for a legitimate reason, you want to do. Have an idea clearly in your mind before you move forward. Everything that follows will be easier because the right idea sets the right course.

Step 2

Think carefully about your reader and how, to best serve him or her, you should apply the idea and have it come to fruitful life. Make sure the idea fits the wants and/or needs of your reader.

Step 3
Tie Idea and Reader

Take an additional step; strive to tie idea and reader together, this by fashioning a concept, meaning a more specific subject, an idea narrowed into a circumscribed and focused topic, one you think is tailor-made for that reader of yours.

Step 4
Gather Information

Do your information gathering, your reporting, your researching, your observing, your experiencing, your interviewing. The more thoughtfully and thoroughly you gather, the more useful information you'll have to choose from, thereby potentially giving the reader a better, richer, more complete product.

Step 5

Study the material you've gathered. Determine content. Decide what to use and how to use it. Select in what's interesting and important and will develop the story's purpose. Select out what's not and won't.

Step 6

Design your article-to-be. Give it an architecture, a form, a shape, a structure. Work for sense of direction and informational flow.

Step 7

Only then at that point, write.

Step 8

Test what you've written for correctness, clarity, concision, cohesion, completeness, and communicative comfort. Test it with eyes and ears. Help yourself by reading the copy aloud, that way to better catch what's wrong or weak.

The process consists of eight steps.

--Don't skip.

--Don't shortchange.

What's Next?

If you are already providing writers with detailed guidance, you may be all set. If not, however, it might be time to start. A "Guidance for Writers" sheet may be just what's needed. It can be instructive for the relatively inexperience writer. And it can be a helpful reminder for the old pros: both those on your staff and your outside authors.

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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