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Monday, 17 August 2020

Rehab for writers: Look for stuff you can't find on Google

 

A follow-up on Rehab for writers: an 11-step programme http://www.tmtvmedia.co.za/2019/02/rehab-for-writers-11-step-programme.html


If you are looking for easy steps to improve your writing, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. What I can offer are reflections that will hopefully add a bit more substance to your writing. 

Recently I came across a video on YouTube on improving academic writing that caught my attention. I’m not in academia but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to steal from people who are much smarter than I am.

I have to say, much of what the expert shared appeared self-evident, and I thought his lecture lacked real-life examples, which I think prove especially useful for people who do not practise writing as a craft. 

Nevertheless, one thought did stand out for me: Academic writing is not about generating new knowledge, it is about adding value. I’m not certain those two ideas are all that distinct, if at all. However, the concept gave me pause for reflection. 

According to the pundit, new knowledge is one of the easiest things in the world to produce. It could be as simple as adding up the number of people in a room and presenting that as freshly discovered data. Whereas “adding value” entailed dishing up information that is useful to the audience. This information would need to be specifically tailored to the requirements of the reader/s. 

Now, producing content for a target audience is far from a revelation. However, it appears to be quite rare in academic circles. The expert’s overarching argument was that the relevance depended on how the essay or proposal was framed. That certainly is a worthy consideration for writers from all walks of life, whether you are penning a work email or drafting an important corporate text. Consider the meaning of each word. Have you used any “trigger” words or phrases? Is your writing littered with epithets that could come across as confrontational, like “on the contrary” or “nevertheless”?  

In other words, in academia, offer value to your audience without implying that previous work on the topic was erroneous or incomplete. This is where the professor lost me somewhat. He offered several examples of what not to do, but was not so forthcoming with alternatives.

As for adding value, I delight in that idea…It implies that you, as the writer, have taken the care to learn more about a particular topic than your average reader may know. In the best cases, you may even offer an analysis to your audience.

If you ask me, these are some of the useful takeaways from this lecture, with my own personal spin:

-What car does he or she drive? Do a bit of research on your target audience. If you can, find a demographic profile of the typical reader, including age, gender etc. Tailor your content and language accordingly. For instance, a middle-aged car fanatic father of two may not care about flowery poetics and would probably prefer the kind of expressions used by sports commentators. 

See here for examples. https://m.wheels24.co.za/Motorsport/polo-cup-resumes-with-frenetic-racing-at-zwartkops-20200811

-From the archives: Read previous articles on the topic. What kind of language was used? What was the reaction from readers? Did they like/dislike stats or did they want more flesh-and-blood case studies?

-Add value to your readers’ lives. If you are writing a business article, try to include information that will help your audience make decisions, for example, whether they should buy or sell stocks in a particular company or sector, or whether they should invest in property. Note: You are not advising them on whether to buy or sell. You are merely providing information that could assist in that decision. 

-Tell them something they don’t know. Time is precious, perhaps more so than ever. So, make sure the time your readers spend with your content is well worth it. You could add a graph to an article that illustrates historic market trends, or add an original survey that you conducted among key players in a certain industry. One of my personal favourites is archive material, such as old newspaper clippings or book excerpts – I live for anything that cannot be found on Google. 

-Original content by TMTV


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