Picture yourself presenting a piece of work to your classmates whose sole responsibility is to criticize it and make it much, much better. Scary? Maybe. A much needed dose of reality? Definitely. Recently, my public history class underwent a writing workshop with Professor Vance geared towards getting their work published in newspapers, magazines and the like. While I wasn’t able to make it, from what I gather it was an intimidating but very rewarding process! Kindly, I was provided with some comments on the piece of writing I was working on as well as some more general points discussed in the class. I’ve decided to use these notes to create the top three tips for academic writers pursing non-academic writing. Loads of credit goes to Professor Vance, Professor Doves and my fellow classmates whose comments helped me create this list.
1. Good hook. Good closer. This seems pretty evident when we think about writing short pieces but when faced with a topic you aren’t normally researching (which will often be the case, especially when you gain traction) or used to discussing it becomes difficult. A fellow classmate of mine (whose blog you can read here) effectively started her piece with a demand that her audience name one event that happened during the first world war. I have to say it caught my attention!
2. Know the lingo. You’re not writing for an academic audience, this much you know. But have you thought about who you’re writing for beyond that? Look at your key terms and access whether they’re appropriate. For example, in my piece I referred to World War I. Did you know that’s not how Canadians usually refer to it? That was apparently very American of me. For us, it’s the first world war or the Great War. I guess this stresses the point, know know know your audience.
3. No wishy-washy garbage. As academics you’ve most likely been taught to fully access all sides of an argument and make a precise one based on your overall thoughts of the topic. In many cases, this means finding a middle position and arguing why no extreme is correct. Well buck up young fence sitter! You need to pick a side. People want your argument quick and clear. While it may seem like some kind of academic offense, it’s a way of conveying your thoughts starkly, crystal clearly and not to mention, a better way for you to get paid!
I guess this kind of writing makes me think about how I would explain a historical topic to a friend or family member who isn’t a history buff or who frankly, doesn’t care about the topic. I’m passionate about it, so if I need to siphon my ideas down to the bare bones for them to feel something towards what I’m saying…well, that’s okay by me.