You’re On Report!

Last week’s writing primer proved to be very popular. So much so that I’m seriously considering devoting Tuesdays at SB to a writing workshop of sorts. I’m glad y’all enjoyed it.

When I wrote last week I wasn’t thinking about writing as a school assignment. I personally haven’t done anything like that in over 15 years. However according to my search stats that’s what people want to read about. I should have known better.

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It takes a special kind of mutant to do what I do.

This week, I’m happy to oblige.

Be Original

Regardless of what you’re writing for, be it a high school history report or for a silly-ass blog like this, you’re writing for an audience. Granted, in the case of a report your audience may only be your instructor, but it’s an audience all the same. Accordingly I feel it’s very important to make whatever it is you’re writing about as interesting as possible. It’s more fun to write like that. It’s also more fun to read, which can’t help but positively influence your grade.

Say you have an assignment to write a report about World War II. For most people, instinct is to write about something easy and well-known, such as Pearl Harbor, the London Blitz, the atomic bombs or whatever. I say fight that instinct; we’ve all read about that stuff before (or at least we should have).

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“Pfft. D-Day again? BO-RING!”

Whenever possible, always strive to go off the beaten path. In our World War II example there are plenty of options. Why not write about the 1942 invasion of Madagascar, the Azad Hind, or the daffy incompetence of Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling? These are topics your instructor probably hasn’t seen very often, if at all. Good writing is memorable. An innovative topic is a very effective way to become memorable.

True, until quite recently it was difficult to find source material on lesser-known topics such as these. That’s really not the case anymore. When I write my History Wednesday posts, I make a conscious effort to stay away from subjects which have been beaten to death elsewhere.

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The American Civil War? Oh yeah, the blue guys won.
Image credit: Júlio Reis

You might think that’s a tall order on my part, but it really isn’t. In fact, I’ve come to view History Wednesday as a relatively easy writing day here at SB. I’ve barely scratched the surface with this.

Be careful with this though, as it’s very possible to get TOO obscure. If you pick too specific of a topic you not only risk losing your audience’s interest (read: your instructor), you also may find yourself with something that you just don’t have a whole hell of a lot to write about in the first place.

(Citation Needed)

When it comes to reliable sources, Wikipedia is actually pretty low on the food chain. It’s my understanding some classes prohibit using it as a source. It’s not hard to see why. By design, any idiot can write something on Wikipedia. Many do. Even if your class allows you to source Wikipedia, I recommend doing so only when absolutely necessary.

I’ve been an on-again, off-again Wikipedia contributor since 2005, so I know my way around the block over there. That said, Wikipedia can still be terribly useful when writing a report. Because Wikipedia is supposed to be backed up with third-party sources, it often contains direct links to said sources. In that sense, it’s frequently a much more efficient search than anything you can do with Google.

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You can use this site as a source too, though I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

That said, don’t ignore old-school sources such as, you know … books and magazines. They’re still good for something.

Don’t Be So Linear

I have a pretty low opinion of how English is taught overall. At least my experience wasn’t particularly enlightening. I can honestly say that in my years of professional writing I’ve ignored and/or forgotten a good 90 percent of what I was taught in school.

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And I don’t write in cursive. Ever.

However, there is something I learned way back in eighth grade which I still use on a regular basis. You may know it as something else, but I call it the “2-3-1” method. Essentially, using this method one writes the body of a work first, then the conclusion, then the introduction. I find it works well. While there are times I write an SB entry start to finish in a linear manner, more often than not I jump around in a style similar to 2-3-1. Often times the title is the very last thing I write.

Why do this? It frees up the creative process a bit, which in turn makes it easier for the work to write itself as it were. By doing this I occasionally wind up with a very different work than the one I intended to write. By different, I mean “better.” If you write the introduction first, you tend to lock yourself in a bit. Sometimes that’s not a big deal, but other times it’s the difference between good work and total crap.

Trust me. I know a lot about both.

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