Writing Tips

Writing Tips

This post is for all of you interested in the printed word & the world of books. Whether you’re doing a scholarly work or a textbook, a tradebook or an article––academic or otherwise––this article will offer tips & suggestions on how to do it, and do it…better.

It also includes information on marketing and promoting of books; plus such topics as ebooks, digital supplements, & scholarly publishing in general.

In addition, we invite you to send in a short article (500 words max) on a topic in your field, that you feel is of general importance to the wider community. The challenge here is: explaining the concept to the educated layman, who does not have the technical background of your peers, but who might just have an original take on the subject.


WRITING TIPS


If It’s Important Enough, Emphasize It

Whatever you’re writing––a scholarly work, a textbook, or a tradebook––two main ingredients are: improving the reader’s understanding and their remembering. One good way to do it is using emphasizers. Think of emphasizers as words or phrases––typographic marks or visuals––that say: “Pay attention; this is important.” Let’s hone in on typographic andverbal emphasizers.

Typographics

Typographic emphasizers include boldface & italics, CAPs & underlining.

Boldface

Consider boldfacing or italicizing key words. It helps in remembering and understanding. Boldfaced words are better-remembered, and are easier to find. Many textbooks boldface key terms for short quizzes on chapters.

Have you ever found yourself thumbing back in the text, for the meaning of an acronym, and having trouble finding it? Don’t make your readers do that. The best way to avoid this: boldface the acronym when it first appears, and parenthesize it following the spelled-out version; e.g., The International Arctic Council (IAC).

Italics

Italicizing helps a word stand out, but less than boldfacing. We normally emphasize certain words when we speak. Reading specialists point out we tend to subvocalize when we read: pronouncing words unconsciously. Italics are the best way to emphasize those words in writing––ensuring your meaning comes through more clearly. E.g.: “We’ve definitively shown that it’s better to target high-risk people, not high risk germs.”

CAPs

Here’s some interesting data on caps. For one thing, they take up almost 40% more space on a page. They also slow reading speed by 15% (which you may sometimes want). In an e-mail, people think you’re shouting at them. Instead of words in all caps, try bold or color for email headings.

Underlining

Good as a third-string differentiator. Otherwise, best to avoid in text.

Other Typographic Symbols

Including clip art–are more iconic than words; they picture an idea, and so are closer than words to the real thing. It helps in remembering, so why not use them in your writing, as emphasizers?

Verbal Emphasizers

There are lots of verbal ways to emphasize information. Here are three: (1) stock phrases; (2) mild imperatives; and (3) rhetorical questions. Some stock phrases are great transitions between paragraphs. Here’s just an hors d’oeuvre:

Stock Phrases

The most important factor is…The key to this is… The best part of it is…That’s the good news…If you think that’s bad…

Mild Imperatives

Notice the reaction…And don’t forget…And remember… Follow this carefully… Try this one… Think carefully about it.

Rhetorical Questions

What are some implications of this? Can we really assume…? Is it necessary to…? What’s the best way to…?

So look for emphasizers when you read, and make them a conscious part of your writing.

 


ABOUT BOOKS


Genres: Scholarly Books. Textbooks, and Tradebooks

Are you writing a scholarly book for peers? A textbook for students? Or a tradebook for a Book-of-the-Month Club or New-York-Times-best-seller audience? Even within these categories, there’s a great deal of difference.

Definitions

Take definitions, for example: With an audience of peers, you can assume they know the technical terms; you can usually dispense with definitions. A textbook for students: tech terms need to be defined; sometimes explained in depth. The general reader: key terms need a good definition, and often a good example or two.

Assumptions

When we write, we make a lot of assumptions about the reader; assumption we’re not always aware of. And for that reason, some of our material may be wide of the mark. What are some of those assumptions: (1) What are you assuming the reader knows?; (2) How much do they need to know?; (3) What are the things you want them to remember most?; (4) Am I feeding them too much information at one time?; (5) If a concept is really complex, should I build in more redundancy (such as examples, visuals, or paraphrase)? The moral of the story: Look to your assumptions; they can make a big difference for your book.

Interest

Don’t discount the interest factor, no matter what kind of genre you’re writing. Just because someone has to read something––a student, say––the more interesting you make it, the better the book will be regarded. And interest comes in a hundred different flavors. Word choice, figures of speech, rhythm; we’ll examine some in our column on writing tips. In the end, people are interested in people. And 3 of the most important features of interest––whether in scholarly-, text-, or trade-, are people, place, and plot. Plot?

Yes, except that in a scholarly- or textbook, it’s called a theme or a thesis. We’re out of time. But do keep it in mind. In writing, everything counts.


Let’s start the dialog. Write and share your thoughts and experience on this and other topics in the Newsletter, as they come up. We’ll cull them, and distribute them to our other readers––and fellow authors.


In addition, we invite you to send in a short article (500 words max) on a topic in your field, that you feel is of general importance to the wider community. The challenge here is: explaining the concept to the educated layman, who does not have the technical background of your peers, but who might just have an original take on the subject.

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