The goal of every author is to attract the audience of the reader, whether the purpose be merely to entertain, or whether it be to win the reader to the author’s point of view. This may seem easier to envision than it is to accomplish. Here are a few tips I give to aspiring authors. When followed, not only do they find their enterprise rewarding, but they save a lot of editing time.
The first basic rule of writing is to place only one thought in a sentence; only one subject in a paragraph. A paragraph is a sequence of related sentences, on the same subject matter, presented in a logical order. A story is a sequence of paragraphs presented in a logical order. Don’t go back and forth and risk losing your reader. Bring the reader along with you in a logical flow.
The first paragraph should frame the article, or story. That is, it should describe the reason for the conversation and give arguments for its importance. Then a preview should be given about what the reader should know by the end of the reading – and maybe, a brief outline on how you plan to get there. Tell the reader what they are going to know if they invest their time with you.
The final paragraph should sum up the article, recapping what was previously discussed or the story that was told and wrap it up with a reason to remember the conversation. Also, if you take the first and the last paragraph together, disregarding the intermediate paragraphs, they should make sense, in that, it should read like a two paragraph summary of the entire article.
The individual paragraphs between the beginning and the end should address and describe one point on the journey through the conversation. Don’t mix points, reasons or logical interfaces within paragraphs. Each idea should be expressed distinctly and the flow should be progressive. Some thought, or points, may need to be broken down – into sub-points or multiple paragraphs – to make them easier to digest for the reader. Each paragraph should be a singular argument, or story line, in favor of bringing the reader one step closer to the final conclusion.
Every paragraph begins with a premise and ends completing it. This means, every paragraph should make sense to the reader if the first and the last sentence of the paragraph were read together without the benefit of the guts in the middle.
Unless absolutely necessary, do not begin any paragraph with “I” – even if the article is about you. The purpose of your writing is to draw the reader in. So, even if you are writing an autobiography, write to the reader and not about yourself.
Do not use apostrophes on plurals. These are reserved for possessives only. If the plural is possessive, the apostrophe belongs just to the right of the word (that is, just after the “s”).
Don’t substitute “then” for “than.” If you don’t know the difference between “their,” “there” and “they’re” go back to school. The same thing applies for “to,” “two” and “too.”
Remove almost every instance of the word “that.” Go for at least nine out of ten – just cut them out.
Periods and commas belong inside double and single quotes (see examples in the paragraphs above) all other punctuation belongs outside the quotes. I don’t care what your grammar teacher told you, AP makes the rules and those are the rules. [The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, Addison Wesley, 1994 – avoid newer versions, as they have become politically correct].
Unless absolutely necessary – stay away from big words.
Proofread your article out loud. It will sound a lot different and you will catch more errors than reading merely with your eyes and thought. Your mind creates a multitude of shortcuts for you where the mouth will hold you accountable.
If you borrow something from another article, author or reference, always give credit to it. No singular mind contains the fount of all great ideas – and no one expects it from you. Giving credit is not only a moral obligation; it demonstrates you have gone beyond yourself to find wisdom among others.
Follow these simple rules. I learned many of them the hard way. The most important thing to remember is you are writing to the reader. Use every opportunity to draw the reader in. In other words, speak to the reader. Stay true to the rules here and you will find your readers drawn to you.