I loved this piece from Politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt on how authors can make editors’ lives easier.
It’s targeted at professional authors – which many in the Wonkhe community are not – and it’s worded more strongly than would be my style! So I’d not adopt it wholesale. But there’s a good deal of cross-application.
Of many helpful observations on style, Dunt makes the point that the reader’s attention is a precious commodity – and not something that authors are entitled to. The job of articles in most publications is to help busy and stressed out people make sense of the world, not to add to that complexity and take up their bandwidth trying to winkle your point out of a thicket of words and only tangentially related points.
Sector organisations and universities often pitch us articles to accompany their published reports, which we often accept because an accompanying article can be a helpful filtering tool for Wonkhe readers to decide which reports they need to read in full – or digest the arguments without having to dive into the nitty gritty of the report itself.
But authors often make the mistake of thinking that an article is the same thing as an executive summary. It’s not. A report is (usually) depersonalised, corporate, and bland. It brings together a wide range of evidence to draw a range of conclusions and present recommendations.
An article should come from a human, not a corporate mouthpiece. It should read like the author thinks the issue is important and interesting – and should show the reader what’s interesting about it rather than just telling them it’s important.
It should tell us something we don’t know already or that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. It should situate the problem in a time and a place, and bring out the stories and the knotty challenges that lie underneath the broader recommendations.
The best way to make something interesting is to start by telling us why it is in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t tell you whether something is interesting or how to make it so – frankly we know much less than you do about the topic, and there are three of us sifting through quite a lot of offers to write something for the site (which is also why it can take us longer than we’d like to reply).
As curious people we’re very open to being convinced of why something is interesting, especially niche and technical things that other publications might not cover. But frankly, if you can’t convince us, you’re very unlikely to convince our readers.
We’re really open to helping out on style, especially for authors who might be new to – and nervous about – writing for publication. But our best pieces come from a place of personal interest and conviction.
Thinking of writing for Wonkhe? Take a look at our advice to authors.