Submission Guidelines

Friday, May 6, 2016

Writing Tools, Tips, and Tricks You Wish You Knew

by Ihor Cap

Image by Paty montano, Wikimedia commons
There are as many different styles of writing an article, as there are styles of dance or music. What we hear less of are the “behind-the-scenes” strategies used to create those articles. What strategies you have available in your toolbox and how much experience you have using them will determine how satisfied the reader is with your message. My aim here is to increase your choice of tools, tricks and tips to help you with the task of writing  your article.
Providing Structure and Coherence to Your Article
The remaining part of the article deals with the more mundane task of establishing structure and coherence to your article. Think of it as the choreography behind the performance. The approach that I would like to share with you here is one that I have used for decades while attending school.  In my undergraduate training, I used the “V” strategy. I do not remember where it came from exactly, but I am sure our elders passed it on to us from years gone by.  Does it work? Hey, I graduated, so that counts for something.
You will need to get a few things from your toolbox before you get started. The minimum supplies that you should carry in your toolbox consist of a yellow and green highlighter, pencils or pens, notepads or sticky notes, and access to a Computer. Note that you can use the computer to highlight and group your contents by color. You decide which tools you prefer to work with. Personally, I use a combination of all of these tools, including the computer.
The “V” Strategy explained
Begin by Looking for a Title
V Photo by KES47
The first thing we want to do is to establish a title for your article. We do this by narrowing our broad interest down to one topic. At first, you may find several topics within a subject area that interest you or that cause you some uncertainty. Write a few of these topics down and then try to reduce it to one first draft title of your topic. If it seems that you are stuck with two topics in your title, do not worry about it for the moment. Move on. We will make it manageable later as you discover the availability of contents for your title.  Do not get disappointed, many of us struggle to find an appropriate title. What we want to write about gets much clearer as we get more involved in the effort. You will discover that the pen has a life of its own and the article may take you somewhere that you did not intend to go in the first place. That may not be a bad thing. As long as you still are on the same topic. Use your notepad to record your ideas for your title.
We all have different motives that drive us to do something and continue doing it. What is your reason for wanting to write an article? To explain how something works, to inform people about your product or service, or simply to share your thoughts and experiences about something you are expert in or wish to explore.  Think about your reason for a minute. Your motives should help define the title for your topic. They give it meaning or to borrow the French phrase “raison d’etre”, a reason for being. Does your title reflect your main intent? Is it interesting enough to make you want to continue researching the topic and continue writing about it? As you reflect on the new information that you acquire along the way you may want to revisit that title of yours. It may change later again and more than once. So, do not get too attached to the title. The main thing is to always have your main goal in front of you and steer your ship so. Remember, topics are specific domains of learning. Many topics form a general subject area. Do not try to cover the world.  Investigate only a part of this world.
Do a “V-Search” for Available Resources
Now, cast that “V-search” net to see what resources are available out there on your topic of interest.  The smaller the holes in your net, the more resources you will be able to “reel in”. If the net has large holes in it, then all the details will escape you. So best, to begin with a wide search of your topic and get as much information as you can about your topic. It is always easier to delete contents than to go looking for them later, I say. If you decide on something to narrow so early on in your search, like baking an apple pie, you may just box yourself into a corner so quickly that you have nothing more to write about beyond providing the list of ingredients in that recipe you found inside Mama’s kitchen shelf.

If you ever find yourself in that kind of corner, remember the letter V.  The letter V stands for a very wide search of your topic, but manageable.  Start with an internet search. Try using general key words to do your search. I like the internet because unlike many years ago, today the information comes to you instead of you going outside your home in the freezing rain to go get that information. Today, the world’s best libraries and museums are but a few seconds away from your fingertips. Try a variety of term and synonym searches that speak to your title. You should be able to know almost immediately whether there is enough information out there to complete your assignment.  General search words like poverty will generate far more hits than you have time to review these documents. Remember, you want to keep your project manageable. In the course of writing this article, my Google search generated 10,900,000 hits for the broader term “poverty worldwide.”  It gave me 1,160,000 hits for “poverty winnipeg .” I think you get the idea here. You want to do a general search but keep it specific enough to keep your sanity throughout the project.  Extend your search to include visits to your local libraries to get other resources generally not available on the internet. Then think about how you will sort and label that information into folders on your computer or little piles on your study table. Give each folder a name for easy recognition and retrieval. Getting organized this way will make your life easier. Each Folder or study pile will become a Subtopic. So, in effect, you will have a string of Folders or Subtopics between your Title and Ending. Does that sound like a plan? Now, let us work that plan.
Use the “V-Filter” to Group Your Contents into a First Draft Outline
Now, take the contents you found from your V-searches and pass them through your “V-filter”.  The V-filtering process classifies or groups contents according to a series of specific Subtopics. Remember, the Subtopics are compiled from your Folders on the computer where you store your relevant search contents or study piles that you have already printed). Each of these Folders comes from those contents that you have highlighted in yellow.  Therefore, use the yellow highlighter to surf and highlight general contents that appear applicable to your topic. Then use the green highlighter to mark specific contents that you will definitely use under each Subtopic that you have created. You can follow the same process using yellow and green sticky notes if you wish. Just remember to pencil in your remarks on the documents for additional “notes to self” so to speak. Make sure your Subtopic Post-it notes stick outside enough the margins so the writing is visible to you. The idea here is that once you finish filtering your contents with your highlighters and sticky notes, you will then group your color-coded contents by Subtopic and start working  your contents into a first draft outline of your article. It is important to keep notes along the way because you might fail to remember your best ideas. It has nothing to do with age. We tend to be forgetful about things if we do not write them down. They serve as useful reminders. These may be such things as finding out that some of the contents you have labeled in the categorizing process may be more suitable to your Introductory section. If that is the case then move them there. Or it may be that your “notes to self” told you that it is inappropriate for the audience you have selected. In short, previously highlighted contents become the various Subtopic areas located in the Body of your article. Do not be afraid to shuffle things. Move paragraphs, even sentences to where they are most suitable. Whatever is irrelevant to your title or Subtopic, get rid of it. You want to use materials that have made it past your V-filter only. That is what makes it manageable.  Whatever you are unsure of, hold on to it until you have finished your article. If you take notes on your computer, I found that moving those unsure of contents to the bottom of your article can be a handy “storage place” for easy retrieval. You can revisit these “storage places” to see if anything still belongs at the end of it all. If not, delete it.
Revise your First Draft contents into a Final Draft
Now, get back on your computer, begin a review of your Subtopics, and flag those contents that need revising.  Move sentences to another Subtopic or a different area within a Subtopic if there is a better fit of contents. Re-sequence Subtopics for that matter to achieve flow of contents. Look for ease of reading, easy transitions from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph and Subtopic to Subtopic. We often ask ourselves, when do I stop rewriting everything? When it talks back to you, I say. At this stage of the game, a lot will depend on the number of Subtopics you have, number of page and time requirements you have set for yourself. Again, keep your exercise manageable. Myself, I do at least three to four revisions. Revisit your content for accuracy , grammar and spelling errors. Nothing turns a person off more than when you have not taken the time to run a spell check through your article. There are time intervals in between as well. Sometimes leaving things sit for a little while helps to clear the fog. It helps you regroup your efforts. However, if it acceptable to you and you can live with it, maybe that is enough.
Writing an Ending for Your Article
Every article needs an ending. It can be as simple as providing a summary statement for your article. You can also end your article with a concluding statement or ask a question if you wish. You may even provide additional recommendations for your readers at the very end of your article. Whatever you decide, just write something for your ending. It can be any one or all of these suggestions.
Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations
To summarize, we examined a few strategies for coming up with a title for your article. We also looked at “V-search” and “V-filtering” techniques to help you come up with your Subtopics.  Color-coding and note taking were important aspects of compiling and organizing your information into a coherent structure. Coherence is important to absorb information properly. Suggestions on how to end your article concluded the article.
Writing your article does not have to be difficult. However, it helps to follow some plan of action to nudge the process forward. You can use the plan in here or modify it if you like. It is not the only way to get things done. You may even decide to get a second opinion on the article. In any case, make a plan for writing your article. Then, follow it. Review your article as it nears the end and redo portions where necessary until you feel the article is finished. Have fun writing.
Ihor Cap, Ph.D., is a Web Author and Marketing and Promotions Manager for EzReklama.
This article first appeared Dec 5, 2009