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Writing: Back to Basics

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The neighborhood kids all went back to school last week, and I am here to report I successfully managed to avoid falling victim to the supply-buying frenzy that traps me every year at this time. Although, now that I think about it, I could use some new pens.

With school back in session, it seems the perfect time for a refresher course for writers. Well, several refresher courses maybe. So today’s post takes us back to basics. If you’re just starting out in your writing career, you’ll find plenty of useful information in the links below. For those of you with a little more experience under your belt, it never hurts to brush up your skills or learn new ones.

Begin at the beginning: You’ve got the perfect piece in mind, but when you sit down at the computer, the opening lines elude you. Here are some refresher tips for different ways you can start an article from About.com

Master some journalistic mechanics: Building an article or story is a bit like building a wall. After you gather the “bricks” it helps to have a basic understanding of how the thing is supposed to go together. Seasoned reporter, Douglas McGill, has put together an online manual he calls The LARGEMOUTH Citizen Journalism Manual. Skip down to the section called “The Four Boxes.” I love it because it provides a handy blueprint for story development from the anecdotal beginning all the way to the kicker at the end.

Conquer those confusing words: This goes back to a post I wrote in May on could/couldn’t care less. If you don’t know the difference between elicit and illicit, or, heaven forbid, you are one of those writers who mix up “then” and “than,” take a few minutes to refresh your memory of some of the most commonly misused words at the Amherst College website.

Get some style: If you’ve ever read a job posting and were baffled by the terms “AP style,” or “Must conform to Chicago Manual of Style,” now is the time to take steps to correct that.  These two references are the industry standards for… er… standardization. Check your library’s reference section to see if they maintain current copies (the books are updated regularly). If not, consider buying them to add to your personal reading shelf, or signing up for an online subscription.

Learn to proofread your writing: Trust me, even if you think your work is perfect, it always pays to proofread it one last time. You’ll never hear an editor complain about the amount of errors he didn’t find in your work. The English department at Purdue University has some handy tips for proofreading.

Do you have any tips or favorite links for getting back to the basics of writing? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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