At one time or another, it will be helpful (if not essential) that every individual knows how to write. The ability to develop a message and present it to others in an understandable fashion is one of the most important skills to be had in our media rich culture. Anyone can write, and write well. It’s simply a matter of knowing how, knowing the processes involved. Here, in a step-by-step format, that process is explained, from start to finish.
This process tends to be a cycle, one of gathering and refining until a finished product is created. Brainstorming gathers many ideas and these ideas are then refined into one single topic. Information is gathered about the topic, then reviewed and put in a sensible order. The first draft gathers your own thoughts and words, which are refined through edits and rewrites. Finally, you gather outside input by sharing your article for review, further refining your article to create a finished product.
In one way or another, every author needs to find and develop ideas to base their writing upon. These ideas may come to you naturally, without any prompting. Many times, however, these ideas need to be sought out, through a process known as brainstorming.
Selecting a topic
Once you have developed a list of possible topics, you’ll need to select one to work on. Evaluate each idea according to what you want to achieve. Are you writing to inform? Perhaps the aim is to entertain. Whatever the purpose of the article, some topics will be more suitable than others. It’s important to select the topic that works. A few questions to ask yourself:
– Is this topic going to yield enough material?
– Will the topic interest readers?
– Will the topic accomplish the article’s purpose?
– Is there enough information available about the topic?
Having selected your topic, you must now begin gathering information about it. In non-fiction writing, information is the basic building block of any article or piece of writing. Gathering this information will be crucial to the success of your article.
To begin your information search, you’ll need to ask questions about your topic. These questions will correspond to the 6 basic questions of research, known as the 5 W’s and an H. They are as follows:
These very questions will be had by your readers. Only in answering these questions can you satisfy them. This will be the best place to start your research.
Once you know the questions to ask, you can begin your search for answers. There are many sources you can look to for this information. The internet makes wide ranging research a simple matter, but don’t limit your search to the internet. There are still several sources of information that can’t be accessed online, such as archived documents, eyewitness or expert accounts, and other materials. Though much can be found online, it’s usually not enough by itself. Seek out every applicable source of information you can and be sure to take detailed notes, not only about the information they provide, but when, where and how this information was found.
Thinking and Planning
When you have gathered enough information, review it in light of your topic and the desired effect of your article. What information is important? What will interest your readers? You will need to determine how to approach this information in a manner that will be appropriate and effective.
Once all of this information has been collected, you must give it some sort of sequence. Taking your research material, make a list of each important point, in order. This may be a simple list of keywords or a detailed outline. Often, this listing will let you see where your research was lacking, showing you where further research is needed. Review and revise as necessary until you have all of the needed elements to convey your message.
Drafting the Message
This list will provide you with a guide or a blueprint to follow when actually writing your article. At first, you shouldn’t be overly concerned with things like grammar and punctuation. Don’t get wrapped up in neat phrases and tight prose. Just get the basics all out and in writing. This draft will be perfected and polished later. Think of this draft as a lump of unformed clay. It’s the raw substance that is important; the finer details can be worked out later.
Having collected your thoughts and ideas on the information already gathered, you can now perfect it. Read it and reread it, finding areas that should be fixed and things that were done well. This is more than fixing grammatical problems and punctuation errors. The rewriting process may require entire paragraphs to be cut, rewritten from scratch or moved to another part of the article. It’s not unusual for an author to rewrite a piece multiple times during this stage. Generally, this stage is the most time consuming, requiring more hard work and thought than any other. As a result, this stage is also the most important. It is during the rewriting process that an article goes from good to great. It is the rewriting process that distinguishes a piece by an unskilled amateur or a solid professional in the writing craft.
After all of your research, writing, editing and rewriting, you will finally have a completed article that you feel is complete. Your work is not done, at this point. It is now ready to share with someone else, be it an editor, a spouse or a friend. After so much thought and work, you’ll need a pair of eyes other than your own to find any rough patches or problems in your article. Find someone to critique your work, and they’ll help you find the weak spots. Some authors avoid this stage for fear of needing to rewrite their article yet again. Don’t be afraid; be grateful. Anything that your reviewer noticed your readers would notice. It’s better to catch these problems before they are noticed by your readers.
After you’ve had your piece looked over by a friend or two, it’s time for the final changes. If you have the time, set it all aside for a day so that you can review it with fresh eyes. Even if you can’t do this, take the time and care to look over it again. Don’t just look at the words; look at the theme, the impressions left afterwards, the format. Pay attention to the white spaces between paragraphs, to the size of the font, to the overall readability. Look at anything and everything, because this is your last chance to fix it. Change anything you need to, and once you’re satisfied, it’s done.
Brian Westover is a freelance writer. In addition to writing articles for publication in standard print venues (such as magazines and newspapers), he is also a skilled copywriter, offering a variety of services to anyone who needs great online content, polished business writing in a professional format and editing and coaching to improve your own writing. In addition to his professional site, Brian also runs WriterSpot, a website dedicated to finding and organizing online resources for either the beginning writer or experienced writing professional.
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