Writing for Publication

Writing for publication is something you may not have to do while you're still in school. Conversely, you may have already done so in letters to the newspaper editor or articles for a school paper. However, you may have a teacher who wants you to experience writing for an audience that doesn't know who you are, as when class papers are posted on the Web. When you write for an absent audience, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Assume ignorance unless you know otherwise. If you assume your audience knows little or nothing about what you are writing, you will be more likely to give full explanations of terms, concepts, and acronyms. Because you will never know exactly into whose hands your published piece will fall, it's always better to over- than to under-explain. (This suggestion, of course, is also a good one to use for known academic audiences. The cost of elaborating is your time. The cost of assuming too much will be a lower grade.)

2. Provide a full context that makes it clear why you are writing. This is true in books, articles, reviews, and letters to the editor. You can often do this in a few sentences early in your piece, or you can provide a footnote or endnote. Again, no harm is done if you provide a little extra information, but there is a real loss to your reader if you provide too little information.

3. Examine the tone, style, and format of the publisher before you send your manuscript. You can learn a lot about the voice to assume—or avoid—by looking at the nature of other pieces printed in a publication.

4. Use the clearest and simplest language you can. I would not try overly hard to sound erudite, urbane, or worldly; too often the result is pretension, pomposity, or confusion. Instead, let your most comfortable voice work for you, and you'll increase your chances of genuinely communicating with your reader.

5. If you are worried about having your manuscript accepted by a publisher, send a letter of inquiry to see what kind of encouragement the editor gives you. This gives you a better indication of what the editor wants; it also familiarizes him or her with your name, increasing your chances of a good reading.

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