Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Give your writing authority: Grapefruitcrazy's Top 10 Tips

Take any piece of prose you've come across from a personal blog post to a technical magazine article and by the second paragraph your attention has started to flag - and by the third it's gone altogether. Here you will find 10 tips to help avoid the same reaction to anything you write.
It may be that in this busy world your subconscious intellect had recognised that what you read lacked authority and had urged you to move on in the quest of more engaging content. If you stop and analyse the writer's weakness you could learn from his or her mistake the next time you open a new blank document.
In the same way you wouldn't put your health in the hands of an unqualified doctor, readers need to know that they are investing their attention to good purpose. This isn't just a case of writers listing their qualifications.
I've been a national newspaper journalist for 35 years, the last eight as a financial editor. But I have always been conscious that each article I wrote had to impress readers with its own merits. Over time I developed a number of techniques, which I would pass on to new staff members. Here are some of my tips, which should add authority to your words:-

1. Clarity goes hand in hand with accuracy. An authoritative writer is like a good real estate agent. The reader has been attracted to the property (your article) by the for sale sign - the title or headline. Your job is to invite exploration of the property with a succinct introduction. Once inside you have to conduct the reader through your piece with consecutive new ideas. Paragraphs should never double back on themselves. Having gone room from room (paragraph to paragraph), it is time to sum up the virtues of the property in the conclusion.

2. You can stamp your authority with the precision of your words. Rather than say "much of Europe is in the European Union" take the trouble to look it up and tell your reader "there are 27 countries in the EU."

3. Try and paint pictures for your reader. "The area of devastation was as big as a football field/Florida/Argentina."

4. Don't overload the information once you have made your point. To do so is bad manners because it means you are uncertain of what's essential in your story and you're leaving it to the reader to do your job.

5. I don't like copy that begins with the writer's surprise at finding his or her subject different to their expectation. I know this is used a lot in profiles and some readers may enjoy this approach. I don't; I believe that the writer is an expert and is never surprised.

6. The above takes for granted that you understand the basics of writing - grammar, spelling, mixing up long and short sentences, and that you're familiar with your intended literary vehicle.

7. Spell out acronyms; explain jargon.

8. You never guess. The old saying "when in doubt, leave it out" is a golden rule. So crosscheck your facts. Get it wrong and apart from anything else your authority will be shot.

9. Irony rarely works in print. Unless you are a master you risk being taken literally.

10. Finally, always realise that you are taking a risk assuming prior knowledge by your reader. It is better to briefly to spell out a bit of background to ensure the reader never feels ignorant.

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