Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Writing Manifesto for the Everyman Writer

What's the most important thing to remember about writing a story? When The Guardian's Tim Radford posed the question to himself, "the answer came back loud and clear: 'To make somebody read it.'" To that end, he's compiled "A Manifesto for the Simple Scribe -- My 25 Commandments for Journalists." Part style guide, part personal writing philosophy, Radford's guideposts prioritize communication with your audience above all else: ""No one will ever complain," he points out, "because you have made something too easy to understand."

While Radford's Manifesto is specifically geared toward journalists, the underlying audience-centric wisdom (mostly) holds true for writers and editors of all stripes: "beware of long and preposterous words," and "remember that people will always respond to something close to them" is useful advice whether you're penning breaking news or annual reports.

Copyediting.com's Erin Brenner, seeing the wider wisdom of Radfords words, did non-journalists a great favor by concretely adapting his original commandments for those of us working outside the newsroom. How does Radford's manifesto apply when you're writing -- or editing -- insider texts for a very specific audience? Radford's principles are geared toward writers targeting a broad readership, but what happens when you're producing content for academics or industry pros? Here, Brenner's in agreement with the spirit of Radford's law, if not the letter. He's writing for "someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson's Green and Putney," while she's concerned with highly specialized experts: the overarching principle, however, stays the same. Above all else, "consider the audience" -- whoever they may be.

What do you think? What communication commandments would you add to Radford's Top 25?

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