Advice needed on writing articles?

Subject: Advice needed on writing articles?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 09:04:35 -0400

Cassandra Parker needs << get some information on
writing articles. I have to start writing a small article for my
company/department telling what's going on within our area,
what's new, what' s hot, etc.>>

You didn't mention whether this is a standalone piece of
paper that will exist on its own, or whether it will fill space in
a company newsletter. If the latter, you'll need to discuss the
goals of the articles with the editor and arrive at an
understanding of how the two of you can work together (e.g.,
re. style, content, length).

If you're doing this on your own, as a kind of in-house
bulletin, you'll have to keep in mind that the audience will
likely have even less motivation to read it than our users have
to read our manuals. That leads to the first question you have
to answer: "what's in it for us, and how can you convince us,
before we've even begun reading, that we _want_ to start
reading?" That suggests the layout must be open and inviting,
with white space and illustrations so that it doesn't look like a
bland wall of technical text. Use a large font size (and
nonstandard typeface) for the heading, and pick some
intriguing wording: rather than "the correct use of bullets in
PowerPoint", try "Keep your audience's attention using
bullets!". Get them to look twice, and you're halfway to
getting them to read the article.

The need to seduce people into reading also means you'll
have to cut down on the text, so they stay seduced and stick it
out to the end. That suggests informal language, and a
discussion of the issue, rather than a list of procedural steps;
after all, who wants to read another manual? We hardly read
the ones we've already got! The 5W's (who, what, when,
where, and why) are very important: an article should answer
each question for your audience. Pick topics that will be
interesting, and explain them simply, in simple language.
How do you know what will be interesting? Talk to people,
and make sure to provide a "please send us suggestions for
articles" boilerplate at the end of each article, along with your
contact information.

<<I'm used to writing manuals and not articles, if there's a

A very big difference. Articles are intended to inform and be
read; manuals are intended to instruct and be used. If you
want to get a visceral feeling for how this works, compare a
typical software manual with a newsmagazine like Time or
Newsweek: very different styles. You'll be trying to adopt
something more like the newsmagazine style.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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