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Thirteen Steps

Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010 at 1:26 PM

A process for writing an article.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Consider a thirteen-step process of writing from project initiation to completion. Ask yourself what follows. The process works.

1. Idea

Have you carefully thought about and studied who is in your audience and hit upon an idea suitable for that audience, an idea focused on the wants and/or needs of individuals who depend on your publication?

2. Research

Have you gathered all the necessary information by employing every possible usable reportorial technique: researching (where the best sources are available), interviewing (those with the facts and understanding of the topic under investigation), observing (major and minor players in action), and participating (if that's appropriate and doable)?

3. Listen

Have you listened carefully to your interviewees so to get their best factual and intellectual contributions? As Rachel Carson advised: "The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him."

4. Design

Have you designed a structure, an architecture that works, an order that facilitates informational and topical logic and that eases the flow of your writing?

5. Lead

Have you created a lead that gets your story underway: that, all in a single piece of copy, establishes the subject, sets the tone, attracts attention, and bridges the reader comfortably into what follows?

6. Thesis

Have you developed a thesis, a golden nugget of introductory material that summarizes the content and that, early on, lets the reader know more precisely than a lead alone can what the rest of your story is all about?

7. Material

Have you chosen the material that gives a reader the impression of completeness, that provides answers to questions he or she is likely to ask, that supplies the essential elements of information and thought to satisfy curiosity or need, and Have you done all that as neatly and efficiently as possible? George Bernard Shaw said: "My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost brevity."

8. Language

Have you used language that reveals your excitement about the subject, your belief in its importance, validity, and potential to enthuse or in some other way stimulate the reader? Bernard Malamud urged, "Write your heart out."

9. Style

Have you released your personality in the way you have written, in the manner you have used language, making sure to regard style, voice, not as embroidery or the verbal equivalent of makeup but as your honest, uninhibited, and yet right-for-the-subject approach to discourse? Martin Amis defined style as "everything and nothing. It is not that, as is commonly supposed, you get your content and soup it up; style is absolutely embedded in the way you perceive."

10. Show

Have you employed narrative and descriptive techniques to bring readers closer to person, situation, or scene, remembering that to show tends to be a more successful method to win them over than to tell?

11. Conclude

Have you brought your copy to a reasonable and satisfying conclusion, of a sort that is likely to cause the reader to emotionally palpitate or mentally understand or both?

12. Read Aloud

Have you read the copy aloud to assure that what you've written makes sense, that -- if appropriate -- it offers the informality of conversation, that factually it holds together, and that -- again, if appropriate -- it makes your reader comfortable? "I talk out the lines as I write," Tennessee Williams professed.

13. Wait and Edit

Have you, if your schedule permits (and try to make sure it does), waited a day or so after writing your story before returning to it for a final edit? The passage of time distances you from what you did previously and refreshes acumen, allowing you to look more clearly at what you previously did and, thereby, to better make changes you come to deem either necessary or as improvements.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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