Posted by: crustynomad | February 14, 2008

Writing Tips for Helium Writers

The following article was first published on the writers website. You can view some of my other articles here.

When writing, you are in the business of selling. You are pedaling your thoughts and opinions, your ideals and ideas, so it is not a process to be rushed. With a little care you can make what would otherwise be a poor article into a great one and much of it is down to a considered choice of adjective.

If you were writing a press release with a view to selling a product or service you have to make the offering sound as if it is a life-changing opportunity. You would choose words that really emphasize the point you are trying to make and encourage a response with a call-to-action. You can do this to with any type writing, even if it’s an entry in a diary or on-line blog. For speed it would be easy to skim over the details to say what happened but the choice of words could make the experience sound utterly mundane and dull.

‘It’s been an alright day today. It was a bit windy but we still went to the park and did some cool things. We had a nice time.’

While this may be true it is vague at best and would entice very few people to read further. The key is to avoid non-descriptive words like ‘things’ and use expressions that add excitement and color. You have to be specific in the statements to make it abundantly clear what the vision is you are trying to portray.

The above entry could be rewritten thus:

‘Despite the dreary, overcast weather with a wind that chilled to the bone, we still went for an amble in the park. The murky clouds raced across the sky as if hurrying for a bus but we were well wrapped up in our snug jackets and woolly scarves so we really didn’t care. Pockets of leaves caught in the undergrowth, were stacked up around the feet of trees but we just kicked them back into the air to let the wind send swirling into the heavens. We joked, we smiled, we laughed – we were just like kids again. It was a day to treasure!’

In terms of economy of words the latter example could be considered a failure but it is far more interesting to read and really gives a sense of what the day was like. I didn’t mention anything about me or the person I was with but in this instance that isn’t all that important. What it does do is allow you to put yourself in the picture and imagine how would feel to experience what is being described.

The key is to choose words that describe the feelings you had. If it was windy how windy was it? Was it a breeze or a hurricane. Paint me a word picture so I can feel what you felt. It’s that that keeps the interest going in the reader.

Another tip you can follow that relates to how both press release and news report writing works. This is the who, what, when, why and how.

Tell the reader who is involved, what is happening or has happened to them and when. Were there any unusual circumstances as to why this is of interest now and what is the back story. Remember that there always is one. With any reported incident there is more to it than just the event itself. If there was a fire, what started it? If there is tension in a local community, what has motivated these feelings? Back up your story with a quote from someone involved and with relevant statistics.

Oh, and a rule of thumb regarding the length of sentences – on average, each one should have around 22 words. Some will be longer and others will be shorter but if you keep this figure in mind you won’t go far wrong. Just give the reader the chance to breathe with punctuation and don’t let a sentence run so long that you forget how it started.

I would recommend that writers from outside the United States consider whether to use US or English spellings of words. This has been a challenge for me as being born in the UK, it is my native language but I recognize the readership of my work will be largely American so I have adopted the American way. Whether you do too is purely a matter of choice.

The final tip is on formatting. Keep your paragraphs short and punchy with two or three sentences and always have a line space between them. When rating articles on Helium it is easy to be negatively swayed by great blocks of unbroken text with inconsistent spacing and incorrect grammar. I don’t want to be prejudiced against article in the first two seconds but if there’s a spelling error on the first line I very well might be.

We all want the recognition of seeing our work published and rated so take care not to be too eager to press send prematurely. Take pride in what you do and you won’t go far wrong. Remember it is your personal representative in the on-line world.


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