Category Archives: Expository Writing

How to Hook Readers without Swearing in Headlines

hookEverywhere you look, people are playing fast and loose with language—even on “family”-oriented sitcoms! Inappropriate language and cussing are becoming more and more commonplace, but that doesn’t mean they are in any way acceptable in articles or blogs. As writers, we should be able to use a wide array of language to catch the attention of the audience without cussing or using inappropriate language.  The headline is the part of the article that will make readers want to read—don’t waste that with poorly-chosen or inappropriate words. Here are some tips to catch readers’ attention without swearing.

Use clever wording to hook readers. Alliteration is always an amazing answer to your search for alternative wording! Alliteration, as demonstrated in the previous sentence, is the repetition of a letter (or sound) of words in a phrase, such as “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.” This requires you to flex your creative muscles in order to find the best words to use, but it also works as a great attention-getter in articles or blogs. Hooking readers with alliteration can also play throughout the article to keep hold of the attention of the readers and refer back to the title, making the article well-rounded and well-written.

Use an informative quote as your headline. Not only will this give readers a small insight into what your article is about, but it will show your readers that you’ve put in effort and done research as well as involving the community to produce a complete article. So many articles and blog posts these days are incomplete or poorly researched, so by showing readers that you put effort into writing because you enjoy it, it is likely that the work will shine through in the article and your readers will feel more engaged. Involving other members of the community also helps keep the attention of the readers, because they will be able to identify more with the article and it will be more important to the readers.

Reveal just a tidbit about your article. Paint a picture and reach out to the emotions of the readers. The goal of an article’s title is to pique the reader’s interest and reveal what will come in the article that will interest them. For example, if you’re writing a human interest piece about how the “downtown” portion of your city is taking shape, but it’s affecting pedestrians and bicyclists, try to portray the way in which the changes are affecting them. Try something such as, “Downtown Changes Mean Pedestrians and Cyclists Must Cross Paths.” The readers do not yet know whether crossing paths is a good thing or a bad thing, so they’ll keep reading to find out. The next challenge is keeping them interested paragraph after paragraph.

Use a question as a headline. “Will Changes to Downtown Spell Disaster for Small Businesses?” This asks a question that pertains to the community, the article, the readers, tugs at emotions, and may open up a new window of discussion. The audience will continue to read the article to find the answer, reasoning, and various expanded explanations as to why the question was brought to light. To ensure the undivided attention of the audience, use each paragraph for a different explanation or different reasoning before you answer the question at hand. Don’t overdo it, though, the reader will still want a quick, somewhat concise answer that won’t take them 45 minutes to sort out.

Overall, there are many ways to hook the attention of an audience without resorting to inappropriate language.  Alliteration, quotes, or questions and painting pictures for your readers to “pique and reveal” will create interest in your article.  Keep their attention throughout the article, which is the ultimate goal of any writer. PR Daily reminds us not to waste the space or take for granted the power that comes with a good headline because poorly-worded headlines are often simply skipped over by readers. Ask an editor to review your article to double-check that your headline works.

Get those creative juices flowing with the next article and write a strong headline to hook your readers! ~Hollyheadline

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Filed under Capturing Audience, Expository Writing, Introductions, Narrative Writing, Newsletters, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, Words Which Sell

Are You Too Lazy to Write Better?

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Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver

Perhaps the biggest myth about writing is that if you’re good at it, it comes easily. People like the idea that a great writer is an inspired genius and the words just flow. Anyone who writes, however, knows that writing is hard work and getting better at writing can take a lot of time, energy, and maybe sweat and tears. If you find that your writing is in a rut or you’re struggling to improve your work, you may be the biggest obstacle in your way. Are you too lazy to write better?

Writing is Revising

Writing well means getting comfortable with the red pen or the backspace key. If you’re not revising your work heavily, you’re probably not getting much better. If you find that you’re getting sloppy with your grammar or style, give yourself a refresher to re-tune your revising practices. Pick up a grammar workbook and test yourself on punctuation and syntax. Read a style manual, such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to remind yourself of good writing rules. Then, go over your work with a fine-toothed comb. For example, Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method is a great revision method for precise writing. If you’re still struggling, find accountability and help in a writer’s circle or a writing partner. Another set of eyes can help you spot trouble areas and give you new ideas. Plus, having someone else’s feedback can help push you to work harder.

Finding the Focus

We all know what it looks like: you sit down to write and before you even open Word you find yourself on Facebook, Pinterest, and CNN all at once. In our highly-connected culture, laziness can sometimes masquerade as busyness. It’s way easier to browse the internet for hours than it is to sit down and focus on your work. Push yourself to set aside a certain distraction-free window or amount of time each day to dedicate solely to writing. A little discipline can revolutionize your writing by giving you mental clarity and freeing up energy for creativity. If you’re having trouble focusing, even when you set aside time just for writing, you might be interested in The Huffington Post’s tips on How-to Focus. Although you’ll definitely want to log-off email and social media while you’re writing, there are ways that your devices can work for you. For example, use add-ons like Google Chrome Stay Focused to limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites each day. Or, the silly site Written? Kitten! rewards you with an adorable kitten once you hit a set wordcount. Learning how to turn-off the distractions can help you free up time to work and get you out of lazy habits.

Staying well-read

Improving you writing might mean improving your reading. The conventional wisdom is that great writers are great readers. Keep abreast of what’s going on in the culture, so you can tap into the pulse and make your writing relevant. In addition to keeping well-informed, make time to read what other writers are writing. Good writers learn from each other. Spend some time reading good books and reading up on what books are garnering critical acclaim or popular attention. Lists such as the New York Times Bestsellers or NPR’s Best Books of 2013 can help you get a sense of what to read. As you read, keep a journal of writing trends, types of images, phrases you love, or techniques to try. While you don’t want to just copy other writers, experimenting with other writing ideas can inspire your own innovations and help your writing grow.

Endurance: Pushing for improvement

Just like with sports, dance, or learning to play an instrument, practice is the key to getting better at writing. If you’ve been working at it for awhile, you might hit a plateau and feel like your progress is stalling. Or, unlike with a workout or diet, it could be hard to see the improvements you’ve made. Take the time to reflect on your work in a writing journal or by rereading your older writing. Create a space to celebrate your progress, but keep pushing yourself. Endurance and the discipline to push harder is the only real way to get better at anything.

More Posts:

The Queen of Fluff Writing. Stop Her Reign Today

What Every Writer Should Remember from Freshman English

Formal Writing Rules I’ve Had to Unlearn

Writers—Organize Yourselves! Tools and Tips for Productivity

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Content, Descriptive Writing, Expository Writing, Revising & Proofreading, Web Writers, Writing Careers

Famous Dead Authors’ Secrets for Writing Success

By Sara, My Web Writers Intern

It has been said that writers are born, not made. Some take that to mean that you are either born with talent, or you may as well not try. That’s probably bunk. If writers are born, they are born out of the sweat and tears of determination and practice. Whether you are drumming up SEO content or working on the next great American novel, writing well and employing the habits of effective writing are essential.

First, it’s important to practice.

Practice keeps you in the habit of writing and thinking about writing. Nineteenth century author C.S. Lewis, most famous for The Chronicles of Narnia, says that “what you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write… so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on.”

Another prolific writer, recently deceased Saul Bellow, observed that “somewhere in his journals Dostoyevsky remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace thing, scratch around in it long enough, pray and dig away long enough, and lo! soon he will hit upon the marvelous.” When you practice the craft of writing and pay diligence to it, you grow. Even if you write tweets for a business firm, you are bound to come up with more unique, interesting, and creative content when you practice. Imagine an athlete who only played her sport at game time — she wouldn’t be good at it and would not be long rewarded for her “efforts.” So practice, practice, practice. Start now. Call it writers’ Spring Training.

Having some “filler” in your drafts is o.k.

It’s certainly tempting for any writer to stop when we have so-called “writer’s block.” Larry Gelbart, though, says “don’t stop.” He wants us to put something there and keep moving. Recently I wrote an article on decade themed parties and decided to employ Gelbart’s advice. I could have stopped and stared at the computer screen when I was stumped on what to write about a 1970s party that wouldn’t be a tired cliché. Instead, I wrote, “too much Footloose not enough Studio 54,” and moved on to the 1980s. Later, while editing and revising, I realized Footloose wasn’t even set in the ’70s, but I understood where my mind was headed. If I had tried to flush that out in the first draft, I’d still be writing it. Listen to Larry. Use filler and keep writing.

Beware of clichés.

“Beware of clichés…. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought — even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.”

-Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer is not dead (here is his website), but this advice was too good not to share. Clichés are death to all that is interesting. I can’t say that clichés are never ok, because writing, like most art, only deals in absolutes for the strict business of breaking them. That being said, clichés are never ok. “It goes without saying” that the “early bird catches the worm” and “curiosity killed the cat” so a true “jack of all trades” would never to “keep up with Joneses” by recycling tired clichés.

If it goes without saying, then please, please, just don’t say it.

Ctrl-F and Delete those Adjectives

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

-Anton Chekhov

Adjectives are not the enemy here (Hint: its clichés). Adjectives can be a crutch, though. I recently read an article about a mama raccoon saving her litter of baby raccoons during a bout of bad weather. It passed through my twitter feed with the phrase, “mother raccoon shields her litter on turnpike from cold,” so of course I read it. I read it and said “awwww… how heartwarming and precious!” If the tweet had falling back on adjective addiction, I probably wouldn’t have clicked on the link following “Heartwarming and precious tale of courage.”

“Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘please, will you do the job for me?'”

-C.S. Lewis

Reflect on What You Wrote

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell claims that a “scrupulous writer” will constantly, even after every sentence (so definitely before sending that tweet), ask him or herself four questions. I leave you with those four questions to take back to your own stack of papers and document files (and practice!):

What am I trying to say?

  1. What words will express it?
  2. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  3. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

Other Articles from My Web Writers:

Tweet for ReTweets- Twitter Tips

My Favorite Writer and Online Marketing Websites and Blogs

What Stephen Covey Knew about Marketing

Tell a Better Story: Tips and Tricks from Mark Twain

Overcoming the Beautiful Little Fool

Annual Essay Contests You Shouldn’t Miss

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Conclusions, Descriptive Writing, Expository Writing, Narrative Writing, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, The Writing Process, Web Writers, Writer's Block

Follow this Basic Style Guide for Writing in APA

by My Web Writers

Image Courtesy of the American Psychological Association- APAstyle.org

APA style is used broadly among academics, students, and researchers working in the social sciences and allows for the proper citation of the findings of others in a recognizable format. APA style breaks papers into manageable sections that help writers to effectively organize their thoughts and allow readers to more easily navigate material. Here are the basics to get you started.

APA papers should…

–          Be typed with 12-point font.

–          Use 8.5 x 11 inch paper with one-inch margins.

–          Contain a running header. The header should include the title of the paper flushed left and the paper number flushed right. The title page should be numbered page 1.

–          Contain four sections: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.

Title Page

–          The title page should contain the running head. Note that the title should be in all capital letters.

–          The following—title, authors first, last name, and middle initial if applicable, and institution affiliation—should be centered at the upper half of the paper and should appear on separate lines.

–          The title page should be double spaced.

Running Head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER                                             1

Title

Betty Ann Sue

University of the North Pole

Abstract

–          An abstract should be between 150 – 200 words.

–          It should include a summary of the paper’s main research points.

–          Do not indent the abstract.

–          List key words at the bottom of the text by indenting, writing keywords in italics and then listing them.

 Main Body

–          The paper should begin with the title centered below the header.

–          Use headings for each section of the paper.

–          Double space.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations include the author’s last name, year of publication and page number. The year of publication is specifically important to the social science field because it helps readers to quickly identify whether or not research is current. Here are a few samples.

According to Patterson (2001), “The subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (p. 56).

Patterson (2001) found that “the subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (p. 56); this is different from his earlier studies.

He stated, “The subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (Patterson, 2001, p. 56); this is different from his earlier studies.

Reference List

–          The reference list appears on a separate sheet at the end of the paper.

–          The title should be centered and plain text.

–          Citations should be double-spaced with no extra spaces between citations.

–          Entries should be alphabetized by the last name of the first author listed for each resource.

–          Make sure you have an entry for each resource cited in your text.

–          For entries that are more than one line, all the subsequent lines should be indented one-half inch.

–          EasyBib is a free site that generates reference pages in a variety of writing styles. Using this resource may save time when compiling a reference list.

Check out the basic web and book formats below.

The format for citing a web resource is:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Online Periodical, volume number (issue number if available). Retrieved from http://www.includeaddresswithfullurl

The format for citing a book is:

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

~Lindsey

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Filed under Citing Sources, Expository Writing, Persuasive Essay, Research Tips, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing, The Writing Process, White Papers

What Every Writer Should Remember from Freshmen English

By My Web Writers

Photo courtesy of SingleMomFinance.com

If your high school textbooks are gathering dust or long recycled, and you can’t remember how exactly you spent those arduous academic days, it may be time to brush up on a few of the basics from high school English, even if just to see which rules have changed.

In high school, teachers break down the components of a piece of writing so that students will have a vocabulary to help them in the writing and revision process. Seasoned writers can also benefit from evaluating their work with these tools. Let’s take a look at some of these components.

Audience

The audience is the group of people you expect or want to read your work. It is usually good to have an age group, education level, and some demographics in mind. This can be as simple as people who like pie or more specific like women with children in their thirties and forties. Regardless, your language and ideas need to be appropriate for the people you expect to read your work.

Consider what background information may be necessary, what important terms may need defining, and what kind of voice will appeal to your audience. When writing for a medical journal, the language and ideas may be more complex, because the writer assumes that readers have a certain level of familiarity with the discipline. Whereas when explaining a complex medical condition in an article on al site geared toward the general public, more familiar language may be used along with metaphors and similes that make the information accessible to those without a medical education.

If you’re worried about accessing a specific grade-level, Microsoft Word has a handy tool that estimates the grade-level and readability of your writing based on word, sentence, and paragraph complexity.  This can be enabled when you click on File, Options, Proofing, and check Readability Statistics. These statistics appear after you spell check your document.

 Purpose

What is your piece trying to accomplish? After reading, do you want readers to buy a specific brand of shoe, agree with a political argument, or know how to bake a cake? This should be clear to you the writer and should be stated directly or indirectly in your work. In an academic paper, the purpose is often encountered in the thesis statement. A thesis states what the paper plans to prove or explain. It is usually located at the end of the introduction paragraph.

 Organization

Regardless of the kind of writing you are doing, some method of organization is always necessary. Some common structures include, cause and effect, chronological order, and compare and contrast.  A recipe is usually organized with an ingredient list and then the steps are described in chronological order. A blog post about a political issue may compare and contrast the two sides of an issue by spending the first section explaining one side of the issue, it’s pros and cons, and then in the next section considering the other side.

In essays, each paragraph usually proves or addresses an aspect of the argument. One or more paragraphs may represent a point the author is trying to prove. Once that point has been supported, the writer is ready to begin a new paragraph.

 Evidence and Analysis

Any work that is making a claim requires some kind of evidence and analysis. Evidence includes the facts that support an argument. Analysis is the author’s explanation of why the evidence is important or how it relates to the argument. Evidence helps the writer to establish his or her authority and support ideas. Analysis helps the reader to make the same connections between the argument and the evidence that the writer is making.

 Grammar and Spell Check

Grammar and spelling mistakes can be off-putting for readers and threaten a writer’s credibility, especially where there are so many resources at hand to aid in proofreading.  Remember that different styles of writing often have different rules and call for different styles of documentation. Style guides are available on writing center websites for many colleges and universities. Purdue Online Writing Lab has an especially good guide for APA and MLA styles. Remember that Microsoft Word has spelling and grammar check, but doesn’t catch everything and sometimes makes unnecessary changes. So it is always good to proofread again. And of course, never turn in a piece that you haven’t read more than once.

Happy writing.  Class dismissed.

~Lindsey

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Content, Expository Writing, Grammar, Introductions, Persuasive Essay, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing, Writing Careers, Writing Resources