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How To Write An Engaging Article

Everyone has their own unique style and method of writing, just as painters or actors have distinct styles. So I can only speak of my own writing techniques. But I thought I would outline some basics that I think make a good written article...
How To Write An Engaging Article
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

Everyone has their own unique style and method of writing, just as painters or actors have distinct styles. So I can only speak of my own writing techniques. But I thought I would outline some basics that I think make a good article. A unique angle is important to a story, as well as proper spelling of names, links that actually work, and correct factual data. But organization is the most time consuming aspect of writing for me. A poorly organized article is the main damper I experience when reading many articles in Indy Media, for instance. If you cannot tell what relevance different components of the story have to one another, something is wrong. People perhaps think writing is just about regurgitating some facts down on paper. But it is in the presentation of those facts and opinions, much as it is in the display of fine food at a catered event, that makes an article palatable or not. It is in the presentation, as if it were a stage event, and in writing, I see rough drafts as rehearsals, and the final published piece as the performance.

The first thing a writer should do when considering writing an article, is to find out if that article angle has already been published repeatedly. Mundane articles are ones which do not leave you with any new information. I often feel I just wasted my time after reading those articles. It is like you wade through a bad article, thinking there will be something of substance coming, like a punch line in a joke, that you wait for, and it never shows. I was going to write an article on the Pledge of Allegiance a few months back, as the god insertion was coming before the Supreme Court again. I was talking to some friends about that, and they all felt I needed to ask children what they think they are saying while they recite the pledge. But that idea has been overdone. I saw it on Candid Camera and on Art Linkletter, as a kid, for instance. What I decided to write about, instead, was the fact that most people quit saying the pledge the second they are allowed to. I realized I had not said the pledge in almost 30 years! Not since forced in high school. And *that* was an angle I had not heard anyone discuss before. There are a million topics out there. A good writer can take a boring topic and make it interesting, just by putting a unique spin on it. Likewise, a bad writer can ruin a fabulous topic, by making the article a stumbling block at every turn, with poor organization, lackluster wording, and a general void of engaging creativity.

Often I will just think about a topic for a day or two, and ideas for different spins on it will just present themselves to me. I write down all of the spins off of that one topic. Then after I have a few things written down, I will chose the best of the angles, the ones least reported on, and use that as the theme of the article. Often the other ideas I wrote down will be used to flesh out the article to a lesser degree. After I have found a unique twist on a topic, I usually do some research on the topic to see what is out there already. Google is good for this. I gather as much information from as many sources as I can handle at a time and download them onto one file on the computer. For instance, when I did an adverse possession/squatting article, I literally downloaded hundreds of pages of writings about that topic onto my hard drive. I sat for hours offline, thereafter, and read through what I had gathered, deleting what I did not find to be unique or especially useful information, and saving what I did find to be intriguing or educational. I looked through old law books and law school work I had, transcribing notes to computer. I looked through old newspaper clippings I had saved on the topic. So now I had an article idea, and a ton of writings and information about the topic from different sources, that I had edited down to just the areas I was interested in for the article.

Next, I usually break the topic into categories. I make sections on a Word document file for the article with titles, usually. Such as an article I recently did on immigrants crossing the American-Mexican border in Arizona. After I had all the edited information I wanted, I put the stuff into categories. One category was statistics on deaths, three other categories were anything relating to three specific organizations, another category was information on the recent agreement to fly immigrants back to Mexico, another category was why they are in the desert and dying at record rates... Once the information was put into these categories, from the many different sources of information, which is always the most laborious part, I had a skeleton for my article. Then all I really had to do was organize the order of these categories, and then write the sections up. I do this form of organizing all the time. I did it today in an article on a protest at the 1968 Olympics. I organized the facts and information into the categories of other political events during Olympics, facts about Carlos, facts about Smith, the fallout, the actual protest itself... then I arranged them in an order that seemed to make logical sense.

Once I have all the information I am going to put into each section, and then have the sections put into some sort of order where the ideas flow into one another, then I start chopping away at the bulks of information in each section. I start with my paragraph above the bulk of information and start integrating the information below into the paragraph I am writing until the information from each section is 1-2 paragraphs usually. Then I just line them up in order. I then read the article *out loud* as I find I can *hear* mistakes I sometimes miss reading silently when reading it out loud. Also, I think writing should flow as if you are listening to someone talk, so I read it out loud to make sure it flows like spoken word. Once I have made any changes required once I read it out loud, then I go over it and hit every link in it to make sure it works. Then I double check the spelling of all proper nouns and names. I run a quick spell check. Then I save it. Since I very often work without an editor, I take pride in editing my work properly. It is not good to assume an editor will clean up your sloppy work. As a matter of fact, that could deter you from getting published. Editors do not like high maintenance writers.

Another thing that can be thrown into the mix here is interviews. You can write up some interview questions and email them to people and wait for their answers and that can be part of an article, or even a whole article. I did an article recently on the Inner Workings of the Alternative Media, where I interviewed several people involved with making alternative media. The article itself required some organization, even though the article had nothing, pretty much, but the interview answers themselves. First I wrote up the questions, then made a list of editors to send them to. I emailed them and waited. Once they all came in, I put each interview question in a Word document file. Then I would go to the first interviewee and paste his answers under each numbered question. Then the second interviewee, I would put her answers, under the first person's, under each question heading. In the end, I had a page with questions and several answers in a specific order under each question. That format ended up being the primary article layout. In other articles, I have written the article while I waited for an interviewee to respond back, answering my questions. Such as my CopWatch article, I sent the people who made the Worst Cop card deck interview questions. Then I began to sort the information and organize the article as usual. Then when the interview questions came back answered, I just found the most logical insertion point for the comments, and sort of just plugged them in.

The only other variation to this is when I write something purely from experience. Such as a midwifery article I wrote. I basically just sat down one day and wrote for an hour about my midwife experience. I have found streams of consciousness like this need to be taken advantage of as they come to you, or they may get lost. Another one of these I wrote like this was one called Passionate Learning about school programs I had learned from. And most recently I wrote one called "Writing is Risky Business" about why it is scary to be a writer. These all came from within my own head. So I did not have to research information, nor did I need to organize large masses of information. Instead, in this case, I usually just sit down and write out every single thing I can think of that relates to that topic in my life experience. Then I organize those topic titles, then just write the article in the order of the topics I wrote down, much like the outlines they taught us to write in high school English, actually. I often think I will write the idea for a personal article down and return to it later. But I have a stack of those now, sitting. The ones that get written are the ones that I go straight to the keyboard and write when the idea first engages me with some passion. I had heard many writers keep pads of papers with them, even by the bed, to scribble down ideas. I do this. These scraps of paper can later become valuable, adding a spark to an otherwise mundane article.

Again, I can only say how I write. And god knows, there are as many styles of writing as dancing. But I just wanted to show my own road map, in case others were floundering on the technique aspect. I have developed this methodology over time, and it has proven to be a workable model for me. Being a person who wants to turn out as much product as possible, but with the highest integrity, while not spending weeks on one article, I have found this to be a streamlined way to crank out articles that make sense, and engage the reader, without weighing the writer down in an organizational mess. I encourage people to write more, interview each other more, organize information more, and to present written articles with as much care as people tend to fashion, for instance. When you write, do not just throw the information down incoherently and leave it to the reader to sort out. Be a guide, streamline the information so it will get read by more people, make the article attractive. Package your articles with savvy and unpredictability. Surprise us, entertain us, make us mad at you! Writing is a gift we can all give to each other. And we do not deserve second-best!
 
 


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