Friday, December 31, 2004

Random Suggestions for Would-Be Writers

Recently I have been doing a lot of writing for the Linknet Resource Libraries I am creating. These "libraries" are collections of articles about a wide range of topics, spread across numerous websites. Since I need many articles in a fairly short time, I have resorted to some of the more well-known article sites such as for material.

Many of the articles posted on article sites appear to be quickly written, and are often rather thin on original content. That is understandable since two of the primary objectives of posting articles have nothing to do with content or quality. The first objective is simply to stick your name in front of other people. The second one is to get a link or two pointing back at your website.

Of course this is a very short-sighted way of looking at the writing game. As serious writers will occasionally point out, what you say and how you say it are ultimately the two most important aspects of your writing. In the short term nobody much cares what you say. But in the long term your writing, and your worth as a consultant or advisor will be judged by the quality of your work.

With that in mind, here are just a few things I have noticed that bother me about many internet articles I have read. Some of these are grammatical points, and some of them are stylistic. Take them for what they are worth.

1. One of the most prevalent grammatical errors I notice is the inability to distinguish between contracted forms such as "they're" and "you're" and the possessive pronouns "their" and "your". If you are pretending to be a writer, shouldn't you know the difference between these things? Here is a simple test: if you can replace "they're" with "they are", then you have the correct form. If you can't, then you probably need the possessive ("their" or "your").

2. Many would be writers simply do not understand possessive forms and how they are different from other words ending in "s". I am not even talking about "it's" vs "its". I am talking about the difference between "ten boys named Billy" and "the boy's name is Billy". If you do not understand the difference, here is a very good article about apostrophes.

3. One of the sytlistic tendencies that is quite popular among internet writers is the use of short one sentence paragraphs. Often these sentences do not have the complete sentence structure we were told in elementary school they should have.

Sentences like this.

Or like this.

Frankly I think amateur writers should approach their "craft" with a bit more humility. They should take the time to learn grammatical rules, and they should stick with conventional sentence structure until they have proven they can actually write. This is especially the case with the type of relatively mundane subject matter dealt with in internet articles.

4. Some internet writers resort to what I call "lazy" techniques such as the use of "etc., etc.". I am really talking about myself here. To give an example of what I am talking about, imagine a sentence in which I am talking about words, sentences, paragraphs, etc., etc. This is a "lazy" technique because it allows the writer to leave a thought unfinished. The impression is that there are more things that can be added to the list, but in fact their aren't any. I have started to purge myself of this habit by replacing "etc., etc." with "and so on". I realize that isn't much better, but it will have to do for now. Eventually I will just force myself to finish my sentences.

5. Another "lazy" technique is using "asides", especially with brackets (you know, like this). Many internet writers seem to think this enhances the informality of their work. I suggest it is just self-indulgence. The next time you are tempted to put an "aside" into brackets ask yourself if you are not just indulging yourself in an excuse for not creating a proper sentence.


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Fred said...

Hi, I find it quite refreshing to occasionally find a article like yours with an different topic such as yours. Its not was I was searching for but somehow ads to ones list of lifes experiences.

I have a soft spot for sites and blogs related to publish articles and /or sites that have a central theme around publish articles type items.

Once again, thank you ##NAME##, look forward see more posts from you in the future :-)