In the previous parts of this discussion, we’ve collected a pile of research and refined it. Now, we’re going to use that pile to build our writing.
There are many writing and citing styles out there, and a plethora of subjects and subject matter to work with. There are many reasons for writing and many audiences to read that writing. It’s hard to advise you at this point. But there are three things I can tell you.
Know your audience (and why you’re writing to them)
Your audience is coming to whatever you write with expectations. You need to know those expectations. Writing your doctoral dissertation, the same way you write a children’s chapter book or picture book won’t get you very far (unless you’re studying the writing of chapter or picture books…). Writing your fantasy novel in the same style you would an accounting textbook is probably worse.
While we’re doing our research, it’s worth doing a little research on our audience and what they want. That might mean checking publisher requirements, picking up a style manual (and reading it), considering the people on your thesis/doctorate committee, or even reading a book or two in your genre (gasp!).
You also ought to think about why you’re writing to them. What is your purpose? Even non-fiction can be considered a story. But why are you writing to the people you’re writing to?
- If you’re writing to entertain, definitely stay away from that accounting book.
- if you’re writing to inform, have good information in your text.
- If you’re writing to convince… Well, we’re back to knowing your audience. Convincing a boss to hire you is a different thing than convincing a professor you’re ready to graduate. And neither one is the same thing as convincing kindergarteners to brush their teeth.
Allowing for your own words
This series has been about collecting research and using it in your writing. Don’t forget your own writing. Usually, we’re using research to support what we mean to say. We’re using it to build our ideas and arguments (hopefully the logical kind). The folks we’re quoting may be experts in their fields, but we’re the expert on what we’re trying to say (if those other experts were experts on what we’re trying to say, they would have said it already).
That means we need to pay attention to our writing and not let our voice and meaning to be lost in a slush of quotes and references.
Citation, it’s not just a good idea
Quoting and citing other people in our writing is good practice. Stealing their ideas is not.
This is an area where our writing style matters. We need to know how to reference other people’s work without looking like we’re trying to steal their thunder. It’s pretty simple (as much as any complex behavior can be simple):
- Be aware of the things you borrow from others (even indirectly).
- Mark those things appropriately in our text
- Attribute the marked text appropriately for the style we’re using. (Trust me Chicago and APA ain’t the same thing…)
It’s not just an “honesty thing” either. Proper citation shows we’ve done our research and know what we’re talking about. It makes us look better while acknowledging the original authors. It also supports our case if someone tries to plagiarize from us…
Writing can be challenging. Doing research for our writing is a challenge all its own. But, if we want success, it’s worth doing and worth doing right. It’s something we can all learn more about (Like seriously… I’m attending a conference session on research for historical fiction about two hours after I write this…).
Do your research, dear reader. Do it well. And, I’ll see you next post.