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Writing - How Not to be the New Yorker

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EC:
First off, let me assure you. Anyone can perform the practical magic known as writing. You post here, you certainly have the basics in your tool box already. However, writing well, reports and opinion pieces that people look forward to and enjoy reading, has some quirks and tricks to it, which we'll look at over the course of a few posts.

Lets start with the big one, from which all others flow.

Know Your Audience

Word selection is your biggest problem, and that is a function of the audience you are writing for. Lets take an example:

" Einstein's equivalence principle says that gravity (with the vector pointing toward the center of the mass) is equivalent to actual movement with acceleration pointed "outward". That's why we observe gravitational blueshift."

"As mass increases, time slows down."

"Yo mamma so fat, her watch runs slow."

All three mean exactly the same thing, yet you rarely find "Yo mamma" jokes in a scientific journal, while the first three words of the first example puts most casual readers off. The middle statement, while no different in meaning from the other two, hits the sweet spot for a general audience.

General audience writing requires four things:


* No more than an eighth grade vocabulary. While it may be tempting to utter long strings of polysyllabic words, resist the temptation. People don't have the time to admire your prose and no one likes a show off. A truism in journalism, proven accurate by the internet, is that you have 3 seconds at most to grab your reader's attention; so make the most of it by using words which, for want of a better phrase, are readily digestible.
* Short, declarative sentences. Don't do what I just did in point one. That last sentence went on forever. It loses readers.
* The use of active voice. In active voice, the sentence has an object which is taking an action. "The police arrested the villain" is active. The opposite of active voice is the passive voice. "An arrest was made." Active voice is preferred.
* The liberal use of spell check. Poor spelling is inexcusable when every word processing program gives you a handy hint when you have gone wrong.
These rules may be tweaked on occasion. They may be broken at times. It depends on your audience. Yet stick with them. Your readers will thank you.

flowers:
How about a site where I could post my writings and it would auto-correct it for me? I am horrible at that.

mountaineer:
A reporter of hard news should follow EC's advice. Sad to say, whatever you write really should be dumbed down a bit. We're not idiots, but we have to assume our readers are ...  well, let's just say many are not as bright as we. Yes, we should write at the 8th- or 7th-grade level and avoid using the passive voice at all cost!

As one currently working in the newspaper business, I'd suggest that anyone reporting a "hard news" event record everything that happens (I mean write it down, not necessarily "record" via an electronic device), and then pick the single most important thing for your lede as you write the news article. For example, tomorrow I will be covering a regular weekly county commission meeting. Very little happens at these things, but I'm confident that one thing will happen that is interesting and somewhat significant to most readers. If someone says something provocative, even better!  I'll focus on that one thing in my first sentence. (Perhaps I'll edit this post tomorrow to let you know what that one thing turns out to be).

ABX:
Thanks for sharing

ABX:

--- Quote from: flowers on February 01, 2016, 07:42:15 PM ---How about a site where I could post my writings and it would auto-correct it for me? I am horrible at that.

--- End quote ---

A good site that helps is the Hemingway editor. I'll post a link later.

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