Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Elements of good writing

On Linked In, I responded to a post from someone who wanted to know how to benchmark his own writing. Here is my response, which can apply to just about anyone and almost any type of writing:

"When I write anything whether it is for a client or for publication, I concentrate on the following:

1) Quality content: Content should be clear and concise, or "tight" as our editors like to say. In other words, say what you need to say and make it interesting, but avoid unnecessary words that don't add to the story.

2) Grammar, spelling and punctuation: If something is poorly written, I won't read it, so I won't ask my readers to sift through mistakes. After you've given a piece your best proofreading eyes, ask a friend or colleague or hire a line editor to give it a look.

3) Flow: This is an element of writing that is hard to teach, but when you read your work, you'll know if it flows. For example, does each sentence seem independent of all the others, or is there a nice transition from one idea to the next?

4) Read it aloud: I always test my work 3 ways: I read it on screen, I print off a copy to read and make editing notes on, and I read it out loud. Each perspective, no matter how minutely different, gives me a different way to look at and hear my words.

5) Sleep on it: Whenever time allows, I like to sleep on a particular piece or project, particularly if it is for publication. Sometimes I'll notice things on day 2 that weren't readily apparent to me the day before, and sometimes I realize that I conveyed exactly what I intended to, so I feel more confident in my work when submitting it to a client or magazine.

6) Fact check: Make sure your basic facts are correct. I like to follow up on key information such as dates, spellings of proper names, geographical facts, etc. This may be as simple as double-checking your typed version against your notes, or it may involve a little more research to confirm your data. Also, because it can be edited by anyone, Wikipedia sources are helpful for general background, but I would always fact check that data with another reliable source. For example, if quoting the population of City A in Country A, Wikipedia might give you a close enough figure for you to start writing, but before publishing or posting, I'd go to the country's official census source. In the US, for example, I'd go to the U.S. Census Bureau website to double-check a fact.

I hope that helps. Good luck with your project!"

(first posted 12/26/08 on Linked In)

Virtually Yourz,
Dana Blozis

The marketing and PR solution for small business

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