THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE.
In general, you should think about three things -- the content, the audience, and the impact you wish the content to have on the audience. Summarize the content as a high concept. Describe the audience both demographically and psychographically. Define the impact as a measurable communication objective. Write these down, and look at them frequently as you write and revise.
Organize the content with an outline. Using the subject headings as a guide, write the first sentence of each paragraph, the first visual description of each scene or act, or the first bit of dialogue. Read it to see how it flows and progresses toward your objective.
Initially, you may want to write a treatment, or scenario, which is a detailed story outline in narrative style. This is a good intermediate step for young writers because it forces you to tell the story in sequence. In turn, you can let other folks read your treatment, and they should be able to understand what you are trying to say. Write the treatment in the present tense so it's more exciting.
GET TO THE POINT.
When in doubt, use nouns, active verbs, and short declarative sentences. You can always embellish the work later. Decide what to say; say it; and get on to the next point. Break complex ideas down into individual sentences that form a coherent paragraph. The Strunk and White book, listed in Other Resources, has many valuable suggestions for concise, professional writing.
CHECK SPELLING AND GRAMMAR.
Nothing blunts the impact of your writing more than a misspelled word, a subject and verb that don't agree, improper use of it's, and the entire gamut of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. Being able to speak, read, and write the language well are basic expectations we have for educated people, especially those with Murray State degrees.
I use both technological and human solutions to this problem. My word processing software has spelling and grammar correction functions, and I have a group of reliable proofreaders who are willing to make additional corrections.
USE A THESAURUS.
If you find yourself using the same words over and over, a Thesaurus has some excellent suggestions for substitutions. Most word processing software has this function, but the Thesaurus in low-tech form (a book) is also useful. This process will immediately make your writing more colorful, interesting to read, and sophisticated. I find the Thesaurus more valuable than a dictionary.
LISTEN TO THE WAY PEOPLE TALK.
This is important for writing dialogue. It must sound credible. For example, people don't always use complete sentences; they talk simultaneously in conversation; and sometimes there are periods of silence in conversation. Dialogue is also a chance for you to break all those stuffy grammar rules.
Yogi Berra said, " You can observe a lot by looking." Use your observations about the ways people act and talk in your writing. And remember that credibility is more important than realism.
READ NARRATION AND DIALOGUE ALOUD.
The spoken word is different from the written word in many respects. Many word combinations that look fine on paper (or on a CRT) are hard to vocalize. It is especially important to choose the right spoken words when the message is short but must have high impact, as in a commercial. You never really know what works until you hear it. If it doesn't sound right, change it.
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