Contribution Guidelines : Effective Communication
THREE GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Audience. Before you begin typing, consider who will be reading what you
write. A range of readers come to 360MainStreet.com for a variety of reasons. Though
they all share curiosity and enthusiasm, they'll vary widely in their previous exposure
to the site, and in their own cultural diversities. Depending on the setting, you'll
be addressing a specific group. It's best to try to be inclusive:
- Present a few general ideas about your subject that anyone can appreciate.
- Place your subject within his, her, or its natural setting within our community.
- Offer a few specialized details that true afficionados will appreciate.
Avoid being overly formal, since that repels casual readers, but keep it serious
enough that people will take you seriously. Vocabulary choices and style of expression
are important here.
Message. The way you choose to organize your writing is critical. If you
can provide a theme to guide the flow, you'll find it more natural to write coherently--and
readers will appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider larger ideas
they can consider as the definitive essence of what you're trying to communicate.
No need to be singular about your message; in fact, the best writing combines and
interlaces broader ideas in a revealing, intuitive way.
Evidence. Evidence is the partner to message: without one, the other is useless.
Whenever you make a point about the the subject, provide some details to back it
up. The degree of specificity depends on the nature of the claim, of course, but
basic descriptions are the main fodder here. Evidence serves a logical role as support
for any larger ideas you choose to present, and it also serves as an independent
vehicle for readers to assess the validity of your claims. If and when you discuss
individual pieces, try to think like a critic would: make note of high and low points,
and aim your focus at the specific details which deserve special attention (and
YOUR LEAD SENTENCE
Make your lead sentence shine. The usual ways to do this are to offer intrigue
or provoke a reaction. Try to get the reader to ask "why?" right away. Tie in an
overriding concept which you can reference later in your submission. For example:
"A visit to the Schuch Hotel can be like stepping into a time capsule."
The lead sentence is the way you grab the reader's attention, so give it high priority
during the writing process. Avoid starting a piece by stating the lineup of a band,
detailing the personal history of an artist, or offering a detailed description
of the music, sculpture, or most delectable dish on the menu. Instead, employ your
creative powers to come up with something special: an overriding question or issue.
The added bonus of this kind of approach is that you get a touchstone for use later
in your piece; and your piece will have more coherent structure.
Try to communicate information, opinion, and experience as accurately, cleverly,
and succinctly as possible. Repetition and redundancy should only exist
to serve a purpose. Always bear in mind the point of view of the reader, which is
usually to absorb as much as possible in as little time as possible. Literary tools
like metaphor, simile, sarcasm, analogy, and irony are your best allies for keeping
the reader's attention and accomplishing this goal.
Freshness is everything. Avoide cliches at every opportunity. Tired old phrases
bog down your writing and make it significantly less fun to read. Avoid phrases
like "a fascinating disc," "a unique approach" or "tremendous taste." Instead, try
to give a detailed justification which will allow the reader to reach these conclusions
on his own. Always use evidence to support your conclusions.
Present an angle which is unique to the subject at hand. Try to let readers
know what makes a particular approach different and notable. For example, you might
"The Magic Bean's eye awakening expressos contrast sharply with its cool and creamy
Present a balanced perspective about the subject. When considering the relative
merits of your subject, also pay attention to its shortcomings. Likewise, when pointing
out weaknesses, identify strengths. When you want to emphasize your opinions, always
provide relevant straightforward information about the subject, which allows readers
to assess whatever bias you're using in coming to your conclusion. This is essential.
The best way to handle value judgments in reviews is to provide descriptions about
your subject, then aim your like/dislike in specific ways. Words like "good," "nice,"
"bad," "poor," and so forth work best when used sparingly. (See above regarding
freshness.) Words like "perfect," "masterpiece," "disaster," and "failure" are to
be used with extreme caution. Readers are very sensitive to unreasonable aesthetic
judgments; if your goal is to convince them of your point of view, reasonable understatement
always works better than heavy-handedness.
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