The evil research paper and other things I've learned...
"a good editor can save you from countless embarassing mistakes"-73
Take note of this, especially freshmen who haven't had newswriting. I'm not saying that you can't write well, but we were all inexperienced at one point. I have made my share of mistakes with articles, especially my first semester. My editor was always happy to give me feedback and constructive criticism.
"spell checkers are rubber crutches: they fail just when you need them most"-73
Not only do they not catch grammar mistakes, but they have a very limited vocabulary. Many of the words you use cannot be fixed using a spellchecker. However, dictionary.com is a great resource. Not only does it give spelling and definition, but it can also link you to articles that use the word in a variety of contexts-great for clearing up ambiguity.
"If you can't explain it clearly, you don't understand it well enough"-74
Our goal as writers, especially the journalism folks, is to make complicated information understandable to the common person. If someone says "it's too complicated to explain," that means that they themselves are still unclear. If you understand something well enough, your brain has translated the jargin in the textbooks and lectures into terms you can understand. A person who has truely learned can easily explain.
"Nothing is there just because it sounds good-you're writing,remember, not making music. you've packed the maximum meaning into the minmum text"-75
"your inner writer is ahving a great time being creative and showing off his vocabulary; your inner editor is watching over the writer's shoulder and tearing her hair out"-76
Despite the fact that music is a language, it's completely different from text. In whatever you write, there should be no fluff, even in a romance novel. Everything needs to aim at a point, to have a purpose. This quote is especially true for newswriting. I always try to go at least 60 words over my assigned limit so I can reexamine my article and decided what is truely neccessary.
The fluff problem occurs when you are 100 words or more away from the assigned word limit. You feel the need to fit the guidelines, so out come more words that basically say they same things as before-the article goes nowhere (this isn't high school creative writing class). I've gone to 600 words and cut down to 250. It's best to get an outline first, a rough layout of all points, ideas, and quotes first. In the end, the result is better than if you try to finely craft everything the first time around. I've written countless pages of research papers that completely dissapear after re-reading and reviewing. Don't be in a rush to get to the limit, because rushing to get content out often results in incoherency.
Websites, like newspaper articles, exist to inform using consolidated facts. Fluff doesn't belong in either medium.
This is the only good kind of fluff:
"You simply cannot trust your own proofreading abilities unless you proofread from paper"-77
"we revere text too much."-78
"we even tell ourselves that our ideas are so subtle and nuanced that only an elaborate stlye will convey them adequately"-79
"the condensation process demands utmost disrespect for print-source text"-80
a personal tale:
Last spring, I sat at a computer from 6 pm to 6 am writing my final paper for EL 336. I am not kidding when I say that I didn't take a break. Granted, all the research was done, but the process of choosing from hundreds of excellent quotes aimed at a theisis was exhausting. Plus, after that 12 hours, I still had more homework for other classes. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. 6 am hit just as I typed the conclusion and bibliography. I looked over the paper and hit save.
Later that day, after a litte rest (you'd be surprised how precious a 2 hour nap can be), I went to go edit the paper. Most of the paper was great, but there were transition issues, not to mention a couple conclusion quotes that sounded a little like a cop-out. Everything, however, had sounded perfect to me the night before. I had really liked some of those Plato quotes.
The resolution of the screen irritated my eyes (I'm also a contact-wearer, so it's worse). In addition, I had just used a ton of brain power. Brains get tired just as easily as other muscles.
The text on the screen blended together after a while. It was only after stepping away from the computer for a couple of hours and printing it out that I was able to catch my mistakes.
In addition, we as writers are always going to look at our writing through a biased lense. Of course we're going to think that our original work is great! Not only that, but when you read your own work, your brain may read what you wanted to write, not what is actually on the page. Your mind will actually omit words and substitute others. This is why we're not allowed to copy-edit our own articles.
"amateurs don't know rules; genuises break them"-83
This quote sums up exactly what Dr. Jerz said in class today. Basics have to be learned to that experimentation can occur, otherwise you are grasping at straws.
But leave the experimenting to a personal website. If you're creating a website for a corporation, you should follow style guidelines. The company desires a certain look. That's not to say that there is no wiggle room for creativity (in layout and design).
pages 83-98-mostly newswriting review, but here are some interesting tidbits:
"National Biscuit Company=NABISCO"-86
I never knew that!
In reading the parts about abbreviations of calendar eras and "Montana Blackfoots" (I still think the term is offensive), I realized just how politically correct you have to be when writing for the web. Write as if everyone is able to view your site (which they are). People could be offended by the tiniest details. If so, god help you if you have a comment box or guest book-a useful tool for feedback, but also an impetus for a flame war. It's strange to think someone could be offended by "30 A.D."-that's how much attention you have to pay to detail. The website should be somewhat universal.
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