The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. August's tips are brought to you by Janine Mendes-Franco, regional editor for the Caribbean.
This is Installment #3 of the August Weekly Writing Tips. In my non-GV life, I write creatively, working on everything from advertising copy and documentary films to animated television series and even an upcoming children’s book. For my writing to be successful it must communicate with its audience – and it strikes me that the GV posts that resonate most are the ones that speak to people. I’ll focus today on techniques that can help us connect with our global audience.
1. Speak to one person.
This is a handy little tip that on-camera talent often uses: Forget that you’re addressing a huge audience; instead, pretend you’re having a one-on-one chat with someone. Assume that the person is not familiar with the topic at hand, but don’t talk down to him.Write approachably. Explain any contextual issues clearly and briefly. List the full names of any organisations before reverting to their acronyms. If there’s a term that’s culturally specific or not well known, provide some background. Avoid jargon wherever possible – the point is to keep the reader interested in your story. Always try to provide new or useful information, or tell it from an angle that is different.
2. Create structure.
Ever find yourself stuck talking to someone at a party who rambles on without actually making a point? Don’t be that guy. Posts that communicate effectively are well structured. Creating a sound structure can be challenging at times, because we’re trying to build a cohesive post out of scores of curated bits of information. It’s actually a lot like documentary filmmaking – your sound bites (in this case, sources like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) determine the story you’re going to tell. But in between those dynamic pieces of “footage”, you need to create a frame. The first paragraph, for instance, should summarise the situation – what’s going on and why the person you’re talking to should care about it. As the story unfolds, the frame you create should arrange the pieces of information in a logical order. You can use your citizen media sound bites as segues to introduce related ideas or new content. The end of the post should recap the issue, ask questions, perhaps even draw conclusions where appropriate. Check out this post by Probir Bidhan as an example.
3. Break up your writing.
Sometimes writing is easier to read when it’s broken up into sub-sections. This is especially useful for longer posts, or posts in which categorizing elements of the story help make things clearer.
4. Be culturally sensitive.
This is more than just being politically correct. Culturally sensitive writers care about their audience. We should avoid sexist language (Lauren once recommended that I change the word “comedienne” to “comedian”), respect countries’ names, and be sensitive to the insinuations our language can have – just one of the reasons GV has chosen not to refer to ISIS as “Islamic State”.
5. Question yourself.
When reviewing posts before publishing, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does the post deliver what the headline promises it will?
- Is it interesting to read? Will it keep a reader engaged?
- Are the citizen media pieces you’ve chosen relevant to the story?
- Does the post flow smoothly from one point/thought to another?