Do you remember creating outlines in sixth grade English class? Well, outlines may have a place in helping you, as a writer, create good prose.
Although I recall intensely disliking having to create an outline for book reports and essays for the teacher to critique, I like creating outlines for the things I am writing.
Studies show that outlines help our brains make sense of jumbled thoughts. They also help writers organize their articles in a way that frees their minds to be creative when they sit down to write.
An outline can help you identify strengths and weaknesses in the premise of the article you are writing. It may also help you develop or combine paragraphs, so the information flows logically.
When you draft an outline for an article you are writing, it may help to build the outline using a two-part process. Try this and let us know how it works for you by leaving a comment below.
Step One in the Outline Process
In step one of this two-part process, create a rough draft of the outline of your article by listing the title and any subtitles you want to include that are relevant to your target audience. Write stream of consciousness and include no more than four or five subtitles.
Step Two in the Outline Process
Go through the outline again, this time adding more detail to each subtitle. You can write phrases or complete sentences to expand the outline. However, remember to keep it brief. You will include more detail when you write the actual article.
I tend to use outlines as a way to remind me of what I want to include in the articles I am writing. So Step Two in my outlines usually looks like an extension of the rough draft I created in Step One. However, when I am writing a lengthy feature article, I usually write in complete sentences in Step Two of my outline.
Experiment with different ways to create outlines that feed your creativity and make your articles easier to write. And please let us know how this two-step process works for you or if you use a different process when you write.
Note: Due to a weird glitch in the page layout of this WordPress theme, the comments box only appears on some pages. If you want to leave a comment and don’t see a comments section below, please click the title of this post to go to the comments page. I look forward to hearing from you!
Copyediting is often a thankless job. Writers complain about your changes. Clients want to know why you “scribble” all over their documents. Sometimes you feel like no one takes you seriously.
The truth is, a copyeditor can be a writer’s best friend. Good copyeditors produce work that is almost invisible. Their editing polishes the writer’s work, making it shine. Most writers who work with good copyeditors say that their copyeditor makes them look good in print.
So make an effort to make friends with your copyeditor by learning to speak their language—-the language of copyeditor marks. If you don’t know what copyeditor marks look like or if it’s been a while and you’d like to refresh your memory, check out the New York Book Editors Copyediting Marks.
It’s such a relief to copyeditors, line editors, and proofreaders when the writers they work with understand the meaning behind those strange “scribbles” we make on their documents. It makes our lives so much easier because we don’t have explain every change we’ve made or why we made it. In fact, if we’ve done our job well, most of the writers we work with will thank us for helping them look like writing rock stars.
Although more writers and editors exchange documents online and use Track Changes to edit documents, a lot of documents are still edited in hard copy. If you know how to speak the language of your editors, in the form of copyeditor marks, you will quickly become a favorite of the editors you work with.
What do you think about copyediting marks? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. (If you’re reading this post on the Writers Inkwell home page, please click on the headline to leave a comment, then scroll to the bottom of the post.)
A style guide can be the salvation or bane of any writing project. When I first entered the publishing industry, I thought style guides had been designed to constrain my creativity. After writing my first couple of articles, I realized that style guides were designed to make my life easier.
The first style guide I used was The Chicago Manual of Style. It’s weight alone intimidated me, but I soon embraced it enthusiastically when it helped me with some thorny issues in a client’s computer user manual, which had been written mostly by engineers. The 16th Edition is now available and you can pre-order Chicago’s 17th Edition, which will be out in September 2017 on Amazon.
Years later, when I was writing a weekly column for a local, daily newspaper, I used the Associated Press Stylebook. In between, I used several corporate style guides and even wrote a few for myself and for clients. You can pre-order the AP’s 2017 Edition, which will be out in July 2017, on Amazon.
Although style guides offer much helpful guidance for both writers and editors, if I were to list the most important guidance a style guide can provide, it would be how to implement these five things in each document you write:
3. User friendliness
Why these five things and not the dozens of other great gems that most style guides also deliver? When your writing provides consistency in its look and delivery, contains easy-to-read punctuation, is user friendly (especially for technical documents), guides the writer in creating a cohesive story for readers, and brands the service or product about which you are writing, most of the other style elements easily fall into place.
When you provide consistency for things like, headlines, use of numbers, and lists with each list item presented in the same manner as, for example, a complete sentence, a phrase that begins with a verb, or using initial caps for the first word in each list item, your readers will feel more comfortable because they know what to expect.
Punctuation is another area that not only requires consistency, such as whether you use a serial (or Oxford) comma, or the AP (Associated Press) comma. It also requires the use of punctuation that will not distract readers from the message you are trying to convey.
3. User friendliness
The term ‘user friendly’ may be used most often in reference to technical documentation, however, whether you write technical user guides, fiction, feature or news articles, the best writing is user friendly. That is, it is easy to read and easy for readers to comprehend the message you are trying to convey.
Disjointed writing is not only distracting, it’s confusing and many readers abandon what they’re reading when they can’t follow the writer’s meaning. Good writing flows from topic to each subtopic and then comes full circle to provide a recap that lets the reader finish reading, comfortable in knowing that what they’ve read makes sense and answers their questions.
Branding isn’t just about marketing. It’s about providing an overall, consistent presentation and cohesive definition of any products mentioned and of the writer’s overall message, whether it be a call to action, confirmation that all is well, or guidance on how to do something.
A writer is the champion of the reader. A good style guide is the champion of the writer, making him or her look good—that is, if they use it.
I invite you to share your favorite style guide with us in the comments section below. Which style guides do you use? Which are your favorite and why?
“There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald nailed it when he wrote this line in The Great Gatsby. Although he wasn’t talking about writing, it seems to apply because writers often write because they love to write and not just to earn an income. Each book, each poem, each article, each short story is a bit of a love affair.
One of the things that stands out for me when I write is that I am deeply focused on each thing I am writing almost to the point of fascination. It’s nearly constantly in my thoughts, much like the object of a first love.
I find myself jotting notes for it. Asking myself how I can make it look and sound better. What I can do to clearly convey my message to readers.
So on this lovely Valentine’s Day, I wish you a beautiful day filled with love, joy, and laughter! May your love affair with writing continue and take you to ever greater heights.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my fellow writers and our readers!
I invite you to share your love affair with writing with us in the comments section below.
If you really want to be a writer, or if you already are a writer, but success has been elusive, you do not need to let rejection, fear, lack of confidence, depression, or anxiety stop you from achieving your goals.
Any time you send a query letter to a magazine, make a cold call to a potential client, or attend a networking event, remember that there is at least a 50 percent chance that the editor will buy your article, the potential client will become a client, or you will meet a potential client at the networking event.
‘Begin with the end in mind’ is not just a trite phrase. It’s the key to success. You must see yourself, in your mind, already succeeding.
Unless you enjoy wallowing in the dregs of self pity, there is no need to waste the precious minutes of your life feeling sorry for yourself or worrying about how you are going to reach your writing goals.
Make the initial effort. Believe that you are going to succeed. Trust that you’ve got what it takes——because if you love writing, you probably do.
Then do it.
You will find that once you make the effort, the universe will work in mysterious ways to help you along the path to writing success.
One of my favorite writing exercises comes from Richard Lederer in his book, The Miracle of Language.
When he taught sixth grade, one of the exercises he gave to his students each year was to write a descriptive essay that painted a picture readers could see in their mind’s eye.
The catch? Use only one-syllable words.
Try it. You will be amazed.
Some of your best writing will be about the things about which you feel most passionate. It’s often much easier to write about something when you feel strongly about it. The words seem to flow as a result of the intensity of your feelings.
When you know what moves you, it’s easier to pitch article ideas, develop fictional stories, and just overall write. Another plus in favor of writing about the things you feel a passion for is they are probably subjects you know well, so you will be able to easily put your thoughts into words.
There’s no end to the creativity that begins to flow when you expound upon the things about which you are passionate. I invite you to dip your pen into the inkwell and share some of the things that incite your passion to write in the comments section below.
Writers are the ultimate dreamers. How else could they create the fabulous fiction and nonfiction works they create? Our daydreams provide a guide for us to that fabulous inner world where creativity resides.
Usually, I find my daydreams are closely tied to my intuition and you should always follow intuition. How many times have you said, “I had a feeling that would happen?” Always listen to your intuition. It’s that part of you that is connected to the greater good of the universe and it looks out for you—if only you will listen to it.
I use my intuition a lot when I’m editing, too. Sometimes what the writer is saying doesn’t quite mesh with the intent of the document or story as a whole. When that happens, my intuition raises a red flag that leads me to look more closely at what the writer is trying to say. More often than not, when I ask the writer for clarification, also suggesting alternative phrasing, my intuition is rewarded with the writer saying, “Yes, that’s what I was trying to say! I just couldn’t figure out how to say it.”
So daydream whenever you can and follow your intuition. You just may find it takes you to some marvelously creative places.
This is Path #6 to Technical Writing Success, however, it is certainly not the end of the list of ways technical writers can achieve success.
Select Companies of a Specific Type
Now that we’ve explored several ways technical writers can achieve writing success and the many types of documentation they work on, we’re going to focus on the types of clients available to you. There are many different types of client companies you, as a technical writer, can work for: local, national, international, large, small, mid-size, family owned, or even one-person companies.
When I first began my consulting business, I worked with pretty much all of the above for the first two or three years. Then I began to narrow the types of companies I wanted to work with until I determined the types of companies that were my dream clients.
Some writers prefer the one-on-one interaction that comes with knowing the owner personally. Others are comfortable working with specific departments or divisions within larger national or international corporations. As you work with each new client, notice the pros and cons of working with each type of company. Eventually, you will find your dream client combination.
Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us in the comments below about your dream client combination.
Working on projects for startup companies is the fifth path to technical writing success.
Startups offer an abundance of opportunities for freelance technical writers because they usually have a small in-house staff, so they often need consultants.
When you approach a startup, keep in mind that they may need help in several areas including marketing, sales, advertising, user documentation (manuals), training materials, and web site development.
In addition to helping startups achieve their goals, working as a consultant will provide you with a growing network of future potential clients because employees of startups often spin off companies of their own.
I invite you to dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your startup consulting stories.