Author Archives: Steve Aedy

Uncommon Tricks for Writing Good Headlines

writing good headlines

You’ve read the statistics. Eight out of ten people read the headline but only two out of ten people read the article. Effective headlines have the potential to increase your site’s traffic by 500%.

There are hundreds articles about writing catchy headlines based on formulas and algorithms. And a whole lot of energy being put into analyzing which headlines work best. But since everyone’s reading those posts and using those formulas, readers start to catch on and what worked last year may not be as effective today. Want to get ahead of the curve or simply stick out from the crowd?

Give some of these trend-bucking headline techniques a go.

Shock and awe

Find the most incredible fact about your topic and throw it out there in the headline:

“Millions of Kittens Euthanized in China”
“1,000 Times More Violent Deaths in The US than in Afghan War Zones”

Whatever your topic, find the most extreme sounding fact, the most outrageous statistic and work it. Make sure it’s true, no making things up. Just find the angle that allows you to drive home your point in the most jaw-dropping way.

Stir up controversy

If your topic is a hot-button item like politics or religion, then your best bet for a clickable headline is to dive into the deep end of the debate. Taking a strong stand one way or the other will result in two things:

  1. Those who agree will click because they agree so completely.
  2. Those who disagree will click because they’re outraged at how strongly they disagree.

This technique works best for highly polemic issues on which there is a clear split in opinions:

“Why Republicans Are Destroying Our Country”
“You Take Away My Guns, I’ll Take Away Your Constitution”
“Why the Bible Is A Lie”

Appeal to the negative

We live in the age of positivity. My Facebook newsfeed is proof of it: rife with reposts of happiness advice from the Dalai Llama to Kim Kardashian. So, if you really want to stick out, try steering clear from the current thumbs-up trend. A lot of people feel secretly relieved when encountering negativity. The pressure to stay smiling can get to be too much.

Be catty – think Joan Rivers criticizing red carpet fashion.
Be nihilist – think 90’s grunge bands proselytizing the end of fun.
Be blunt – “_____ Is a Moron”.
Be apocalyptic – “Why We’re All Going To Die in the Next Year”.

Try rhyming

Harking back to ad campaigns of yore, copywriters used rhymes to create a catchy sales pitch: “Winston’s Taste Good Like a Cigarette Should” and Pringles’s “Once you pop, you can’t stop”. Presidential campaign slogans use rhymes because they’re easy to remember and fun to repeat: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”, “I Like Ike”, “All the Way with LBJ” and “Ross for Boss”. So, if you can find a way to rhyme your headline, you might earn a click or at least a memorable line.

Use caps and exclamation points

All headline advice says to avoid this because it looks spammy. Well, since we’re trying to do things a little differently around here, why don’t you try messing around with the visuals of your headline:

“How to Think BIG When Your Budget is small”
“How to Get Out of Your Parent’s Basement TODAY!”
“8 WAYS NOT TO REACH FOR ANOTHER DOUGHNUT!”

Use other languages

Everyone writes in English. How boring! Try using popular phrases in other languages in your headlines. Obviously it has to be a recognizable phrase like “au revoir”or “capice” or “arrigato”: “Why Republicans Are Saying Au Revoir To the New Health Care Bill”.

Strike fear into their hearts

Not in a horror film kind of way (although that’s certainly one way to go) but in a way that makes them fear they’ll be in dire circumstances if they don’t read this article. Nothing like manipulating nascent fears can boost your post’s popularity:

“10 Beach Destinations To Avoid This Summer If You Want to Survive ‘Til Fall”
“Someone May Be Hacking Your Facebook Right Now”

Be absurd

Cultivate the weird and surreal in your headline. Make it so bizarre that they have to read it twice or three times and still go “huh?”:

“Male Gymnast Says Key to Success is Poison”
“Spelling-Bee Champ Loses Title For Telepathic Cheating”
“Dog Scores Higher On SAT Than Most Public School Students”

Use unusual numbers

Top ten lists are a cliché and have been since David Letterman starting giving his every night show. Top five lists are a close second. Come to mention it, people may be getting tired of top 3’s and top 7’s as well. Use unpopular numbers like 4 and 8 and pretty much every number from 11-19. Instead of a list of 20, make it 21. You get the idea.

“13 Ways To Choose A Good Wine”
“18 Careers That Are Making People Rich”
“32 Cities For Baby-Boomers”

The longer the better

Everyone says you should keep it simple. Simple clean language rules the day. Short and sweet. Try giving your readers credit for being able to make it to the end of a headline that’s longer than six words. Even if they don’t actually read the article, stop limiting your verbosity and just let things flow:

“How I Came To Stop Believing The Hype and Went Back to Non-Organic Grocery Stores – And Saved $500/Month”
“4 Books You Should Be Reading That Will Allow You To Join The Snob’s Circle At The Christmas Party”

How to Write an Outstanding Resume If I’m a College Graduate

how to write a resume tips for college graduates

Recent college graduates entering the workforce tend to hit a wall when it comes to writing their resume. What should I include? How to write a resume if I have no work experience? The good news is that, with few exceptions, the rest of your peers are all in the same boat: no experience, but hungry for opportunity.

According to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) there are 1,855,000 new college graduates from the class of 2015. In other words, you are far from alone. Employers are aware of the fact that you just finished college. They don’t expect you to show a resume flush with professional experiences. So, in that sense, you’re off the hook.

But that doesn’t mean that you still won’t be able to write an impressive resume. Without any tweaking, lying or exaggeration, you’ll be able to present your best self to future employers by following a few tips.

Don’t be afraid to include summer jobs

If you worked part or full-time during your college years, even if it was flipping burgers in your home town during the summer, make sure to include it. Even if the job you held is totally unrelated to the field you’re planning to enter, the fact that you have job experience counts for something. You learned to be accountable, you learned to take orders from superiors and work with others.

If you were given extra responsibilities such as making bank deposits, opening or closing the establishment, or training new employees, include it on your resume. Employers want to know who you are and what qualities you possess. Don’t try to be the “ideal” candidate. Tell them what your real experiences have been and let them judge if you’re a fit for them.

List internships or relevant jobs instead of coursework

If you happen to have had the good fortune and determination to land an internship and paid position in your field of interest, include them. In this case, you’re better off focusing your resume on these experiences than on coursework during college.

List coursework if you haven’t had professional experience

yet So, you haven’t had internships or paid positions in your area of study. That’s not uncommon. But you did take four years of international business courses and interviewed well-known business leaders for your final research paper. Or you’re an art major and took an art restoration course in Italy last summer. Anything that shows your preparation to enter into this field, even if you haven’t had practical experience yet, is valuable.

List extracurricular activities

Especially if these were areas you excelled in and if they show leadership. If you attended a few meetings of the Environmental Club, don’t list it. List activities in which you had full and significant participation. Captain of the varsity rowing team, class president, editor of the college newspaper, peer interviewer for college applicants… You get the picture.

Don’t embellish or lie

The worst way to start out your post-graduation career is by lying. Exaggerating skills or flat-out making things up on your resume will only get you into trouble. No matter how badly you want a certain position, bragging about expertise you don’t possess will give you more problems than you can handle. You likely won’t be able to perform the job you were hired to do, and by the time employers realize this, you will have done a lot of damage to your reputation. Your time would have been better spent acquiring the skills you need than trying to fake it.

Pay attention to language

A resume isn’t just a list of skills nor is it an expository essay. At its best, it’s a carefully crafted summary of your most relevant experiences. Short pronoun-free and fluff-free sentences that use action verbs make winning resumes.

Don’t write this: “I spent last summer waking up at 5 am to take the train to the city, since punctuality is my specialty. I was given access to client portfolios and was asked for my contribution in how to increase their capital. I performed various administrative duties and participated in important executive meetings. All in all, I performed to the satisfaction of my superiors.”

Instead, try this: “Acquired practical knowledge of executive office culture. Projected investment capital possibilities for firm’s clients, some of them multi-billion dollar ones. Brainstormed with industry leaders on ideas to increase capital by 100% within the next two business quarters.”

The first one is too long and full of non-essential information. Showing up on time for work, for example, is a given, and doesn’t earn you bragging rights. The second simmers down your internship into a sumptuous description of relevant experiences and details.

The GPA rules

If your GPA is over 3.0, you’re encouraged to include it. If it’s lower, leave it off. If your GPA for coursework in your major is higher than your overall GPA, list your GPA for your major. Especially if you’re applying to positions that relate to your major.

List honors and awards

If you made the dean’s list, were granted a prestigious scholarship or earned any other awards from your college, make sure to list it.

Don’t include references

A list of references is basically the same as fluff. Don’t include it. Use your resume to highlight important information about yourself that employers want to know. If you do a good job with that, then you can give them your list of references in person when you land an interview.

Develop a professional social media life

You’re leaving college and entering the working world. Your online life will need to reflect this. If you don’t already have one, create a LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot and include relevant information that isn’t on your resume. Consider creating a professional website or blog to showcase your expertise in your area. If you already have one, include a link to it on your resume. Don’t include links to your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts. Learn to separate the professional from the personal.

20 Best Tools For Writers: Add To Your Bookmarks!

best tools for writers

Writers today are spoiled. There are apps for everything. You can get your grammar checked, your work organized, receive writing prompts and blog ideas. You can even indulge in caprices like writing against the falling red maple leaves of Kyoto or savoring the clackety clack of an old fashioned typewriter. Branch out and discover new horizons in modern writing. There’s an app for all your needs and desires.

Here are my latest favorite writing tools:

Goodnotes 4 is the latest version of the famed digital ink app. If you like to handwrite, but don’t want to type out your handwritten pages later, this is the app for you.

Words U. It’s an app that increases your vocabulary subconsciously. As you write text messages, it takes common phrases and replaces them with more advanced vocabulary words. Ex: help = succor, sure = indubitably, food = comestibles. The perfect vocabulary builder- and what writer couldn’t use a good vocabulary?

Blog Topic Generator. If you’re stuck on blog topics, these guys can help. I typed in “writing novels” and got these gems: “The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Novel Writing”, “20 Myths About Writing” and “5 Tools Everyone In The Novel Industry Should Be Using”. Subscribe to get a year’s worth of blog topic ideas customized to your brand/specialization.

Daily Page wakes you up every morning with a new writing prompt. Write your response to the prompt and either file it away privately or parade it before the other subscribers. Great for times when you’re lacking for ideas or to help you create a daily writing practice.

750 Words is a challenge offered to you and taken on by nearly 300,000 writers. The app tracks your writing habits over a month, marking which days you wrote, how long you wrote for, how fast you wrote, what time you started, etc. It also measures the themes and mood of your writing. You get points for meeting the daily quota and can compare your points to other people’s points too.

Writefull allows you to select parts of your text and check it against three language databases: Google Books, Google Web and Google Scholar using easy-to-read stats. You can also alter your text and compare the new and old versions to see which one has more results.

Blogo is the newest in blogging. Its platform allows you to manage all your blogs from one dashboard. It has a photo editing app, an offline version and syncs with Evernote.

Ghost.A new open source blogging platform whose claim to fame is its simplicity. Elegant formats, easy-to-use, allows for multi-user blogs. Blog away in style.

Haven is a virtual writer’s den with elegantly designed backgrounds to inspire writers. Write against a background of falling red maple leaves in Kyoto or burn the midnight oil against a backdrop of night-time in Berlin and more. And if that weren’t already pretty awesome, they also offer help choosing themes to write on, plot twists ideas, and, my favorite, classical literature excerpts that have to do with your chosen theme.

Hanx Writer. If you like the sound of typewriters but don’t want to start lugging one around like your hipster friends, try this app. Its virtual typewriter provides you the audio of an old-fashioned typewriter as you type, but without having to sacrifice the convenience of your modern laptop, tablet or phone. And, as a bonus, it was designed by Tom Hanks.

Reedsy is an online network that hooks you up with editors, book designers and marketers. You create an author profile and get connected to high-quality publishing freelancers. It’s had good reviews and quote requests are free.

Scrivener is an application designed to help you organize long writing projects like novels and dissertations. It offers many tools:

  • A virtual cork-board.
  • Quick-reference panels so you can quickly pull up other documents and research when needed.
  • An ebook publisher for when you’re finished.

Grammarly is currently the most popular and reputable editing app on the market. It runs a check for over 250 grammar mistakes on your text, has a contextual spell-checker and gives you grammar lessons to help you avoid errors in the future. You can use it for emails and social media posts as well.

iA Writer Pro is a text editor plus. It’s many features include:

  • A totally blank screen to write distraction-free.
  • Focus mode that allows you to see just one line of your text.
  • Highlights adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions and conjunctions.
  • Night mode with a black screen and white type to save your eyes if you’re a night owl.
  • Syncs with Dropbox and iCloud.

Writepls is a selective collection of articles on writing and publishing. The topics span from “The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living” to “Guest Blogging Strategies that Helped Grow 36,733 Email Subscribers”. It can also help you craft the perfect email and offers advice from George Orwell to boot.

On Writing. The much-lauded memoir about writing from one of the most prolific and successful authors of all time, Stephen King. King bares his writer’s soul for your benefit. Read it for inspiration, a laugh, a cry and a kick in the bottom to get to work on your writing.

Let’s Get Digital. A writing manual for the digital age by David Gaughran. If you want the world of online, indie and self-publishing revealed, this is the book for you. It explains tactics and options to empower writers in our brave new tech world.

Penflip is a collaborative app for writers who want feedback on their work. Your readers post comments and make changes to your text which you manage. All revisions are stored, so no worries about losing your work.

Draft is a complete collaborative editing package. Besides the standard collaborating and sharing features, it has:

  • Cloud service.
  • Publishers to almost anything (WordPress, Tumblr, Ghost, Svbtle, Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn and more).
  • Transcription tools.
  • Presentation features.
  • Simplification button.
  • Analytics.

Ulysses is one of the most popular text editors for writers of all stripes. It’s simple and streamlined, and allows you to write in various designed formats. Though light-weight, it still gives you all the editing features you could ever need. iCloud synchronization and doc exportation in many formats round out the package.

Tips For Breaking Into Freelance Writing

how to start freelance writing

If you’re looking to enter the freelance writing market, then there are many factors to consider before taking the leap. How do you get jobs? Where can you market your skills? How do you charge for your work? How much can you make? Freelance writing can be rewarding and lucrative. Or, it can be frustrating and the equivalent of slave labor. The difference between the two is the amount of preparation you put into your new career. Here are some tips to help you start freelance writing:

Define your niche

If you’re hiring a writer for an education blog, who would you choose: a writer who specializes in writing about education or a writer who writes about sports, coding, Japanese cuisine, fashion and education? While it may seem like a good idea to branch out and explore writing about all your different areas of interest.

In fact, the best way to start freelance writing is to define yourself as an expert in a specific area. The more focused your writing is in the beginning, the easier it will be for you to market yourself in that niche. The more you write on one subject, the greater your credibility becomes. Being a jack-of-all-trades isn’t the best way to catch the attention of publishers for a nascent freelancer. Focus on one area and see what that yields first.

What do you offer?

Are you the fastest content writer on the web? Can you meet crushing deadlines in a single afternoon? Are you a highly skilled researcher who unearths credible and interesting facts that defy the skills of other writers out there? Have you written any viral posts? Are you considered a thought leader in a certain area? Start to think about the market value of your skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a gaggle of writer friends, ask them to help you define these skill areas. Writers are great at identifying other writer’s strengths.

Start a blog

If you don’t have any published work to show, then write a blog. It’s the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get published and start building your credentials as a writer. Make sure your blog is focused on your niche. If you have a blog with a lot of posts, you may want to include links to your most successful or most relevant posts when sending out writing samples.

Get a website

If you have a fair amount of writing to show off already, then it may be worth investing in a website. A writer who has invested in a website has also invested in their professional life as a writer. It’s where you’ll include samples and links to your writing, highlight your skills and include testimonials and reviews. You’ll also list your rates there.

Learn to pitch

This is the essence of freelance writing and it’s the difference between a successful freelancer and an unsuccessful one. The more you pitch, the better you get at it. Pitching is about the math. Keep sending out pitches and don’t stop. It may seem intimidating at first or perhaps you’re scared of rejection. Overcome those feelings, and they will completely evaporate when you get your first ‘Yes’.

Tips for a good pitch:

  • Do research and craft your message to reflect the style and concept of the site, journal or magazine you want to be published in.
  • Be specific and brief. Long-winded pitches will probably not be read until the end. Make sure the most important information is in the beginning of the pitch and that it captures the essence of your idea.
  • Let them know who you are and where they can find out more about you by including links to websites, blogs and other published work.
  • If you don’t hear back after two weeks, send out a brief follow-up message, summarizing your initial pitch.

Decide how and how much to charge

This can be the most confusing part of breaking into a freelance writing career: how much should you charge? How should you charge: by hour or by piece? Do different kinds of writing demand different prices?

Luckily, Writer’s Market publishes a fee guide for writers. It’s one of the most useful price guides for writers out there. There’s also the question of when you should charge. You should definitely receive a payment before you start ghost-writing a book. However it’s common to get paid after the work has been delivered for web content and print articles.

Don’t accept low wages for your writing. It won’t be worth it financially and may demoralize you. Many websites offer abysmally low wages for articles. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Hold out for the higher paying jobs. They’re out there. Accepting low wages is kind of like ending up flipping burgers at McDonald’s when you expected to be head chef at a Michelin starred restaurant.

Be financially prepared

Make sure you set realistic goals about your potential earnings as a freelance writer. It’s possible to make six figures as a freelancer, but it takes time and dedication. And you probably won’t be earning this your first year in, nor your second. If you’re trying to take a serious step into a new career as a freelancer, it’s best if you have some savings set aside while you climb the learning curve.

In the beginning, you’re more likely to have trouble charging clients or getting paid. You will also go through some awkward phases where you take on too much or too little work and your income may feel a little bit like a roller-coaster. With time, you can start to smooth out the fluctuations and have a stable income.

5 Reasons Teachers Should Start Writing a Blog

why teachers should start blogging

Are you thinking about starting your own teacher’s blog?
You know that digital technology is sweeping classrooms on a global basis, creating blended learning environments. And you also know that to stay effective as a teacher you need to embrace some of this technology.
For many, the problem is knowing where to start, how to initiate and integrate these new systems into the classroom. And while most of us are now comfortable with using a smartphone and personal computer, unless you’re a hardcore geek, the idea of massive technological setup can seem intimidating.
It’s not that you’re a closet Luddite, it’s just the idea of learning an entire new system can feel a bit overwhelming.
So, rather than thinking you’re going to have to learn code, be a social media guru, and invest decades learning how to run complicated software programs, focus instead on sufficiency. Set a goal of learning what will be sufficient to create your own blog. Or, in teacher terms ‘just enough’. “[Teachers] need [to learn] ‘just enough’ to help them complete a curriculum-related or instructional task. Anything beyond this is wasted effort.”
And blogging can be a simple and gentle way to get more comfortable with technology in the classroom. For taking steps to create a blog, this post from Teach Junkie 24 Steps to Creating An Awesome Teacher Blog is a good place to start.
So, let’s explore 5 good reasons teachers should start blogging.

1. Blogging is Efficient.

A common area of resistance for many teachers is the thought that blogging will take up too much time. But in truth, once the initial setup is done and you’re familiar with the platform, blogging is an efficient and effective medium to communicate with students, parents and other teachers.
You can use a blog to:

  • Organize and consolidate all of your files, links, research data and multimedia sources in one place. And of course, you can keep private pages for your eyes only.
  • Share students work within an online community for collaboration, reviews and peer critiques.
  • Communicate in a two-way flow with parents. You can post classroom lessons and curriculum online as well as class progress, events and activities, so that parents are always in the loop. And parents can add their comments to your posts as well – or you can set a dedicated email address for private communications.
  • Post classroom and homework assignments, schedules for upcoming tests and review material. This means no excuses of ‘not knowing’ when projects are due, and are helpful for students who are absent.

This post from Angela Watson on Blogging Tips for Teachers is a good read for practical advice on setting a schedule, how to pick a theme, niches, etc.

2. Collaboration and Extended Reach.

Today’s EdTech tools such as blogging allows for a broader range of collaboration between students and teachers as well as between teacher and teacher. It’s a great way to share what you’ve learned with other teachers, and to learn from those with a bit more technical savvy – as this very informative post 50 Ways EdTech Benefits Teachers and Students from Tom Vander Ark demonstrates.
And, as an integrated tool in blended learning, blogging can also enhance “communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and digital responsibility/citizenship.”
Blogging also facilitates expanded influence for “professional learning networks across districts and around the world.”

3. Blogging Builds Voice.

For aspiring writers or teachers of drama, English, journalism etc. blogging is a very effective way to develop their “voice”, one of the key qualities in becoming a better writer – and thus, a better communicator. Critical for being a good teacher.
But it can also be the voice of social consciousness. Anyone who works within the parameters of public service knows how difficult it can be when trying to effect positive change. Blogging allows us to take our concerns into the public arena – as Susan Bowles did when she refused to give the FAIR test to her kindergarteners. Use this tactic with discretion of course. Park your post in ‘drafts’ and sit on it overnight; or consult with your peers or superintendent before publishing.

4. Use Blogging as a Learning Tool.

Setting up a blog, learning how to use it, composing original content and curating information is a great way to teach language, writing and editing skills in the classroom. And getting students involved with their own in-class blog also teaches them how to interact in a public platform with integrity and respect, and develops good “digital citizenship skills.”
This post by educator Susan Lucille Davis offers a step-by-step process on Blogging Basics for setting up a classroom blog.

5. Blogging Gives Perspective.

Let’s face it, just like our students, we don’t always behave in the classroom the way we’d like to.
Events unfold, buttons may get pushed and then we assign meaning to those events based on past experiences. These meanings then color our thoughts and feelings which may be expressed in a manner somewhat less our usual high level of professionalism.
Blogging can be a safe environment to gain perspective on what’s happened by creating a space for reflection; as the act of writing itself helps to clarify and refine our thoughts for objective examination. In situations that are unusual or create uncertainty, the professional should “reflect on the phenomena before him…” The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did”.
In short, blogging helps to create distance so we can see the situation clearly – it helps to keep us sane!
Well, there you have some good reasons to start blogging – as well as some teacher recommended resources to make your entry into the blogosphere easy and successful.

Must-Dos For Improving Your Essay Writing Skills

how to improve essay writing skills

Most writers could stand to improve their essay writing skills. That’s because essay writing is an art honed over time and with practice. Though some people may be naturally good at writing, a good essay is more than that. It requires a tight, well-defined thesis, and a developed argument that’s simply stated and uses credible research to back it up. And of course, the artistry of writing requires precise vocabulary, transition words and active voice.

If you’re in need of some improvements in your essay writing, here are some areas to focus on:

Read more

One of the first things you can do to improve your essay writing skills is dedicate more time to reading. The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different styles of writing. Eventually, you’ll identify qualities that you want to adopt in your own writing.

Do research before you write

It’s important to do all of your research before you write. You should take notes while doing your research, but the actual essay writing should only come later. Make sure your ideas have had time to mature enough before you start trying to put them together.

Be patient and take things one step at a time. If you’ve done all of your research and taken good notes, the arguments you’ll use should be fairly easy for you to define. Rushing into the writing process prematurely can mean you have to change your arguments as you come up with more research. This will make for a jumbled essay in the end.

Avoid repetition

Writers often make the mistake of repeating the same word or group of words too many times in their essays. This causes boring reading. Use a thesaurus to see what other words you can use to capture the same idea. If there is no replacement for the word(s) you’re writing, try using third person pronouns more often (he/she/it/they) or abbreviations for long titles.

Example:
The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation met in January to vote on whether or not to allow a mining company do a land survey on their reservation. The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation voted against granting permission. The mining company attempted to file a law suit and the Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation held a meeting at the city hall.

A better version:
The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation met in January to vote on whether or not to allow a mining company do a land survey on their reservation. They voted against granting permission. The mining company attempted to file a law suit and The Council held a meeting at the city hall.

Cite facts, statistics, dates and expert opinions

Using numbers and statistics gives credibility to your argument as well as creates an impact. Which of the following statements has a stronger impact?

There are far fewer polar bears in the Yukon today than there were a few decades ago.
Vs.
The population of polar bears in the Yukon has been reduced by 1,000% between 1980 and 2010.

Citing the opinions of experts in the field also allows the reader to trust the rest of your observations.

Example:
The devastation of the polar bear population in the Yukon is one of the most severe of any species on the planet.
Vs.
Dr. Sheffield from the University of Toronto gave a speech at a convention on wildlife conservation where he lamented that “few places on the planet have suffered such severe loss of a single species as in the Yukon.”

Improve your vocabulary

The more words you know, the more variety of words you can use in your essays. Simple math. A more ample vocabulary can provide you with the tools to write more interesting essays. It can also help you acquire a higher level of precision in your arguments. For example, if you’re writing about bee-keeping, you could use the word “apiculture” which is the technical word for bee-keeping.

If you’re writing about religious cults, you could use the word “indoctrinate” which means “teach a person or group of persons to accept a teaching uncritically”. Precise language helps you economize on explanations.

But know when to keep it simple

Writing with precise language is one thing. Showing off is another. Don’t litter your essay with sophisticated vocabulary words. Don’t use “insouciant” when you could use “indifferent” or “turgid” when you could use “tedious”. You don’t want to force your reader to reach for the dictionary every few sentences. The majority of readers wouldn’t bother. You want your essay to be readable to the layperson. The feature of your essay is your argument: if you present it simply, it will be easy to grasp. And that’s one of the goals of good essay writing.

Use transition words

Transition words are key to guiding the reader from one argument to the next. They help improve the essay’s readability and flow.
Some transition words to incorporate in your essays:

  • However
  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Nevertheless
  • Also
  • Including
  • On the other hand
  • In spite of

Check out this site for a comprehensive list of transition words and when to use them.

Use active verbs

Writers often fall into the trap of using passive voice in their essays. Try using active voice instead. It’s more direct and gives more life to your sentences.

Example:
The research done on nuclear energy has left many questions still unanswered.
Vs.
Nuclear energy research still has many questions to answer.

The last surviving member of the Terena tribe had died the year before.
Vs.
The last surviving member of the Terena tribe died in 2014.

Use a writing app

Since we live in the digital age, there are apps that can tell you how your essay can be improved. Try one or all of the following:

Hemingway – highlights problem areas of your essay with color coding for things like passive voice, adverbs, complex sentences and more.
Grammarly – advanced spell checker and grammar checker as well as plagiarism detector.
ProWriting Aid – checks for grammar, style and readability.

The Art Of Writing Powerful Sentences

how to write powerful sentences

Whether you’re a fiction writer, a journalist or a web content writer, you want your sentences to capture people’s attention. And for that, you need to write powerful sentences that spark curiosity and drive them to continue reading.

If you think of sentences as a piece of music – which would you rather listen to: music that lifts and moves you as it spans the musical scale or music that drones on in muted monotones? You don’t have to be a natural at this. By practicing some of the advice to follow, you can shape better sentences that snag the attention of your readers.

Trim the fat

The rule of thumb in writing powerful sentences is that less is more. Don’t saturate your sentences with drawn out phrases. Be direct and get to the point. Nobody has time to slog through circuitous writing to get to the author’s true intentions.

Some examples of fat-trimming:

Due to the fact that Sally has a cold, she didn’t come to work.
Sally didn’t come to work because she has a cold.

I skipped my workout so I could make my daughter’s soccer game.
I skipped my workout to make my daughter’s soccer game.

Lynn is the type of girl who likes to go for long walks.
Lynn likes to go for long walks.

There was basically no real reason for John’s dismissal.
There was no reason for John’s dismissal.

The gasoline tank suddenly exploded.
The gasoline tank exploded.

She came inside of the kitchen and sat down.
She entered the kitchen and sat down.

Move strong words to the beginning or end

The first and last words of a sentence are the most memorable. If your sentence’s strongest words are in the middle, you can restructure to bring them either to the beginning or the end.

Ex 1:
The storm caused a big fire and several electrical shortages due to strong winds.
Vs.
Strong winds caused several electrical shortages and a big fire.

The first example starts with “The storm” and ends with “winds” vs. the second example that starts with “Strong winds” and ends with “fire”.

Ex.2
The tiger pounced on the deer and managed to rip its jugular.
Vs.
Pouncing on the deer, the tiger ripped its jugular.

By starting out with the word “pouncing” you get the reader’s attention right away.

Get to the point

Don’t write in circles. Don’t try to be crafty or sneaky or hide your point in innuendo or double-meaning. Nobody is going to take the time to decipher your complicated sentences. Say it plain and clear or don’t say it at all.

Ex:
It was as if John were trying to fish for some sort of compliment about the quality of his report.
Vs.
John was fishing for compliments about his reports.

Oddly, there were virtually no young-ish men at the fireman’s bachelor party.
Vs.
There were few young men at the fireman’s bachelor party.

Don’t use fluff

Even fiction writers who are allowed a certain license to ramble can fall victim to this one. Make sure that your sentences are there for a reason. Are they moving the story forward? Are they driving the point home? A gourmet meal doesn’t include filler and good sentences don’t include fluff.

For example, if I added this sentence to the above paragraph:
Fluff fills up the page but doesn’t bring your reader any closer to understanding your message.

Is it really necessary? Or has this point already been made by the previous sentences?

Get rid of passive voice

Passive voice does not make strong sentences. It slows down the flow of information and sounds awkward. Replace your passive voice with action verbs and see what happens:

The deer’s jugular was ripped by the tiger.
The tiger ripped the deer’s jugular.

A fire was caused by the storm’s strong winds.
The storm’s strong winds caused a fire.

The child was knocked out by the flyball.
The flyball knocked the child out.

Choose better verbs

“To be” and “To have” are some of the first words taught to ESL students. Why is that? Because they’re the most commonly used verbs in the English language. For powerful sentences, you want to forge new terrain. Shelf “To be” and “To have” and venture into the wide world of verbs. Check out this list of action verbs for some ideas. Just be sure not to weaken them by putting them in passive voice (see above).

Create an image in few words

Okay, so you’re not going to use fluff, you’re not going to use passive voice or extra words. It may seem like I’ve taken away all your tools as a writer, leaving you with 5 word sentences that sound plain and robotic. But, believe me, there’s a better world waiting for you beyond wordiness. And you can write strong sentences with few words. Hemingway was the master.

He claimed that this was the best sentence he ever wrote:
“Baby shoes: for sale, never worn.”
It tells a story, creates an image and evokes emotion and has zero fat to trim.

Build suspense

Yes, you want to get to the point. No, you don’t want your individual sentences to be too complex to understand. But as you build a story, you can use good sentences as tools to help build suspense. You want your readers to hunger to know what happens next. Giving them suspense propels them to the next sentence without too much effort on their part. That’s what you want for your writing – to be effortless to read.

A sentence like…:
Jack had placed a letter under their door for them to find when they got home to their apartment.

…can be made more intriguing by adding some suspense:

Once inside the apartment, they found a letter shoved under the door.

Be provocative

Provoke someone’s anger or applause with polemical sentences.

Instead of this:
Many intellectuals tend to be atheists.
Try this:
Unlike believers, many intellectuals are atheists.

Here you have a fat-free sentence that gets to the point and doesn’t hide an opinion behind objectivity. Great sentences take practice. Good luck working on yours!

Writing In Education: Tips and Resources

writing in education tips

When you think about academic writing, what words come to mind? Inaccessible, stuffy and boring are some of the words I think of. Writing is a difficult craft no matter which genre you choose, but academic writing presents a special set of challenges. Much of the research that academics do is poorly written. So writers often end up adopting this same style in their own writing. Also, there’s the desire to be taken seriously as an academic and students to apply an extra coat of hyper-intellectual phrasing to their work.

Academic writing is at its best when it’s clean, simple and easy to understand even to the layperson. The academic writer should become skilled at taking complex concepts and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces. Otherwise, no matter how incredible and innovative their idea is, it runs the risk of becoming lost in overly academic language.

Here are some tips and resources to help you become a better academic writer:

Academic Coaching & Writing is a consulting agency that helps writers craft and structure their work more effectively. You can hire a consultant for one-on-one coaching or you can glean the pearls of wisdom from their ample blog that covers everything from “Using APA Style in Academic Writing” to “How Academic Writers Lose Confidence and How to Regain It”.

The Royal Literary Fund offers an excellent Dissertation Guide with practical and conceptual tips such as:

  • When should I start writing?
  • Note-taking and writing – what’s the link?
  • How do I give order to a jumble of notes?
  • How do I stay motivated?
  • How can I revise my original structure?
  • What is the importance of feedback?
  • Where can I find guidelines on style?
  • When do I stop writing?
  • + links to more academic writing resources.

Write a lot

There’s no substitute for practice. The more you write, the better you will get at writing. Write every day. For most, the secret to finding the time to write every day is waking up early and getting an hour or more of writing in before the rest of the world notices you’re awake and starts bugging you. Make sure you make a comfortable space for yourself to work. Physical comfort plays an important part in keeping you motivated to write. A comfortable chair, a heater/air-conditioner and a ritual cup of coffee or tea can help ease you into your writing time.

Read a lot

The more you read, the better you’ll get at sorting through different styles to decide which ones you want to adopt and which ones you don’t. A good reading list is the best kind of classroom for a writer. Read on diverse topics including those outside of your area. Does someone manage to use statistics in a way that engages the reader? Does someone’s research impress you? How can you work these qualities into your own writing?

Stay current

Reading a lot of other people’s work also helps keep you up-to-date with current trends and emerging concepts. A big misconception about academic writing is that it’s all historical – based on past events and thoughts. In fact, academics have a lot of pressure to stay current. Even if your area is Ancient Egyptian Politics – the questions you should be asking are: How can this knowledge be applied today? Why is it relevant now? How does this information help us understand or solve a question or problem in our own time?

Write the way you speak

Probably the biggest complaint about academic writers is that the writing is too…academic. Imagine that you’re at a party and are trying to explain a concept from your book to someone in a crowded room with a lot of distractions. How would you explain your idea in a way that would maintain the person’s interest? Trade long overly complex sentences for shorter ones. Ditch the fancy vocabulary in favor of the vernacular. Use action verbs and avoid over use of past participle and passive voice. When you’re finished writing, read what you’ve written out loud. If it’s hard to say, it’s probably hard to read. Re-write until it flows smoothly off the tongue and the page.

Use social media

Write blog posts, Facebook or Twitter posts on your topic. See what kind of response and feedback you get. Sometimes people can post comments that lead you to new research in your area that you weren’t aware of before. It can also help you gauge the effect of your writing: is it engaging readers and creating dialogue? Which posts stood out and got responses? Which posts fell flat? Another benefit of posting your work is to help you achieve stages of completion. Rather than thinking of a whole book or dissertation that’s hundreds of pages, post chapters and excerpts. It can help keep you motivated and guide your next steps.

Don’t plagiarize

There can be a fuzzy line between which ideas are yours and which ideas are someone else’s as you do your research. Short of copying someone else’s work word for word, plagiarism can be hard for a writer to identify. There are resources available to help you make sure you maintain your academic integrity by understanding the different forms of plagiarism and how to avoid them. Developing excellent citation skills can help you a lot in this area. Harvard offers several excellent guides on how to avoid plagiarism.

Use a reference manager

Since academic writing is research-based, you’ll need a way to organize and manage your references. Keeping your references well-organized also helps you to avoid plagiarism (see above). Try on of these popular reference managers:

Endnote:

  • Maintains and organizes all your references.
  • Downloads PDFs to your references.
  • Make comments and annotations on your sources.
  • Choose from 6,000 bibliography formats.
  • Automatic formatting available for several types of documents.
  • Share with colleagues and professors and other researchers in your field.
  • Get advice on which journals are the best fit for your research.

Mendeley

  • Syncs across all your devices.
    Access sources by using keyword search.
    Highlight and annotate sources.
  • Use on or offline with full access to PDFs.
  • Share with other researchers, colleagues or professors.

10 Storytelling Tricks For Fiction Writing

storytelling for fiction writing

The difference between telling a story and storytelling is simple. Telling a story relates the facts to your reader, but storytelling makes a tale come alive.

Below you’ll find 10 tricks to help you incorporate storytelling techniques into your writing at every stage of the process.

First Things First: Pace Yourself

1. Identify key moments

Before you write a scene, take the time to think about the key moments that need to occur. Make a list of both emotional and action based moments. This will keep you focused on the elements of your plot and make it clear where and when you can add storytelling to enhance these crucial points.

2. Save the best for last

Now that you have a list of key moments, make sure that you are saving the most impactful moment for the final part of the scene. This doesn’t need to be a cliffhanger, but it should be the most important part of the scene – where you reveal something that drives your plot forward. Placing this information at the end of a scene keeps the reader interested, and gives you a good rule of thumb by which to structure your storytelling.

Next Fill In the Gaps: Get Physical

3. Build your stage

Think about your scene as a play. Too often as authors we can be so focused on our character interactions that we forget to build a set around them. With each scene, you need to convey where your characters are to give the reader a foothold in their world. This means you need to name a location and/or give a few details as to what the place looks like.

4. Check your 5 senses: Sight, Touch, Taste, Hearing, Smell

Barring alien life forms or disabilities, our characters are experiencing the world with their whole body. Bring your stage to life by having your character remark on their surroundings via their five senses.

For example: a heroine could note that the roses her lover sent smell rich and heavy, like springtime. This gives the reader a chance to experience the gift vicariously. On the other hand, bringing in the senses could allow a detective to see his suspect’s eyes twitch to the left, signaling to the reader that our suspect is lying, without the dialogue.

Checkpoint: Watch the Details

5. Note the mundane

What time of year is it? In writing a scene, it is important to remember to relay seemingly mundane information to the reader. Not only does give a fuller picture of your scene, knowing that it is the middle of winter shows that it really must be love if our hero runs outside in a t-shirt to beg forgiveness from our heroine.

6. Does anyone want a drink?

This is another reminder that characters are people too. They’re going to eat, drink, and excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. Now, we don’t necessarily need to see the characters eat three square meals a day – but we can use food, wine, and the call of nature to build our story.

For example: describing Thanksgiving dinner by saying you ate turkey and pie is underwhelming. Try to include details, like how the pumpkin pie had a dollop of fluffy whipped cream on top. Make the audience’s mouth water – it will make the readers feel as though they are in the scene.

Food and drink can be used for purposes beyond tantalizing taste buds. Taking a sip of wine in the middle of a conversation is a good way to express that character is stalling for time and having a character go to the bathroom in the middle of a road trip gives the sense that a long time has passed. Common necessity is a great way to build your stage as well as give information without having to explicitly state it.

7. WWXD

“What Would X Do?” The key to telling a good story is to stay true to your characters. It would be nice if the Editor of the High School Newspaper was able to deduce who cheated on the test with fingerprint analysis, computer hacking skills, or telepathy. But unless your character is at a special magnet school for criminology, a tech geek, or has paranormal abilities – they have to solve the crime the old fashioned way: gossip and maybe the assistance of a teacher or two.

It’s tempting to aide our characters when we want them to succeed or to kill them off when we start to dislike them. Still, the truth is, good storytelling happens when your character lives within the personality, and the world you’ve created.

Finally: Major Elements to Note

8. Cause = Effect

Bear with me here…this one is tough. Cause happens and then we see an effect. If we forget to set a kitchen timer for our cookies, they’ll come out of the oven burnt. I know, this seems simple enough, but we often forget to proceed in this orderly fashion. Sometimes our protagonist has burnt cookies and we’ve forgotten to tell the audience why.

An example: “Sam pulled the charred cookies out of the oven, thinking Susie would never want to go to prom with him now.” While we’ve gotten our point across (the state of Sam’s prom-posal is in jeopardy!), our readers are thinking… “Wait, how did the cookies get burnt?” Small (or large) slips like this pull the audience out of the story and hurt the flow of your tale.

9. Tension is your driving force

Readers keep reading because of unmet desires. Good storytelling instills in the reader an intention to keep reading; to find out what happens next. As an author you need to keep building tension to maintain that desire.

10. Just Trust Me

The keystone of storytelling is trust. You get to build your world using storytelling techniques. In the act of reading your story, the audience gives you their trust – it’s your job not to break it. So no matter if it’s a big plot twist or a small detail, it needs to belong in the world you’ve created.

An example: let’s use vampires. One of the tenets of world building with vampires is addressing the issue of sunlight. Are your vampires sparkly, sunlight safe vampires? Or are your vampires going to disintegrate into a pile of ashes with the first rays of the dawn?

Either instance is believable to readers, but if you say that your vampires are allergic to the sun, you can’t negate that – even if the vampire really, really wants to have brunch outside with the heroine. Breaking the rules of your world will not only pull readers out of your storytelling spell – you’re going to kill the world of the book for them too.

10 Essential Things You Will Learn From Writing

how to write a research paper

Writing is an act of sharing and teaching others about your perspective. But there are also many things that writers learn in the process. No matter what type of writing you do- content writing, blogging, journalism, poetry, novels, etc – all writing teaches us some valuable lessons.

Here are 10 things you can learn from writing:

Become a better observer

I once met someone at a party who asked me what I did for a living. When I replied that I was a writer, they said, “Well, that’s the end of our conversation. I don’t like writers. They always use the people in their lives as raw material.” Ouch. Unfortunately, it’s kind of true and kind of unavoidable. Often the people, places and experiences in a writer’s life find their way into their stories. That’s because the part of being a writer is being a good observer. The more attention you pay to the details of your environment (tastes, smells, words, accents, etc), the richer your writing will be.

Become more disciplined

Becoming a professional writer requires momentous amounts of self-discipline. Writing every day, whether inspiration is here or whether the words are coming out like molasses stuck in a jar, writers muscle through it. For anyone who’s ever tried to write a novel or longread before, you know how much work it takes to see it through to the end. Not just the first time you type the words “The End” but the thousandth time you think it’s finished while your editor disagrees. Sometimes writing is like coasting down a hill on a bicycle. Other times, it’s like trying to summit Mt. Everest. A disciplined writer writes no matter what kind of day it is.

Become a better reader

Reading is research for writers. Whether you’re a poet, a novelist, a journalist or blogger, you want to see how other people are doing it. What makes their writing successful? What do you think could be better? What tricks do they have that you want to learn? Every writing course I’ve ever taken has urged me to read more. The more you read, the better you’ll learn to read, the better you’ll learn to write.

Know thyself

You learn a lot about yourself by becoming a writer. Whether you’re writing advertising content or poetry, the words are yours and you’re the only one who can write them. A journalist wants to bring a story they think is important to the world’s attention. So does a novelist. The act of writing is the act of sharing who you are. The more you write, the more you’re able to define your values and the messages you want to put out there.

Learn how to shut out distractions

Writing is a task that requires concentration and silence. It’s hard enough without adding ringing phones, crying children and other things to the mix. Many writers go to great lengths in order to carve out that quiet time in order to write. Some get up early to ensure they’re distraction-free. Some shut off their phones and disable their internet connections. Others wear earplugs and the list goes on. Becoming a master at shutting out distractions comes with the job.

Get better at research

Most forms of writing require some type of research. Whether you’re writing a historical novel or an article on widgets, you need to find the most relevant and credible sources to make your writing reputable. A well-researched piece of writing stands out from those based on glances at Wikipedia.

Develop a style

Different genres require different writing skills. In web content writing, less is more and simplicity rules. In novels, it’s all about the angle you choose to tell a story from, character development and tone. Poets often use metaphor to capture the essence of a feeling or object they’re trying to describe. In all of these cases, the writer’s work is to cultivate a “voice”, a style that defines their work so that readers can recognize it as theirs. This is an important step in a writer’s development.

Get better at editing

Getting the words out is just part of the writing process. Getting the words right is another part of it – the editing part. Between grammar, spelling, word choice, clarity, tone and structure, almost all writing needs some editing after the first draft. Writers must learn to have the patience to wait a few hours, days, weeks or months to let the words “settle” before looking at their work again. They must also develop the ability to look at their work objectively to see how the piece can be improved.

Learn to handle criticism

Chances are some people won’t like the things you write. And because writing is such a personal form of expression, it can be really hurtful when someone criticizes yours. That’s why it’s particularly important to develop a thicker skin and learn not to take things personally. If every writer stopped writing the first time someone threw a stone at their work, there would be precious few writers left.

Some criticism can be useful – it can make you to rethink your angle, your words or your style in a way you hadn’t considered before. Some criticism is just downright insulting and them it’s best to lick your wounds and carry on writing. The sooner the better.

Be courageous

Many writers have had moments where they became paralyzed with fear and were unable to write. Maybe you want to write something but you’re afraid of other people’s judgment. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll offend someone or someone will offend you if you write it (see #9). Maybe you’ve just created something that was very successful and aren’t sure you can top it. There are lots of reasons that fear enters into the picture. And therefore, writing itself requires great courage. To overcome those fears takes a leap of faith. Not everyone is able to take that leap. But for those who do, often the act of overcoming their fear is reward in itself.