Look at the end of the second paragraph in this month's Life Support: Do we really believe we can substitute software for civility? For sensibility? I'm encouraging readers to think about the limits of technology by framing my opinion as a couple of questions. The second one is grammatically incorrect--no subject or verb--but it alters the tempo and extends the alliteration (sound repetition) of substitute, software and civility. It flows.
I could have made my point in a more conventional way: "I don't think we can substitute software for civility or sensibility." The alliteration is there, but the sentence structure is bland--like a slow melody with one chord and lots of long notes.
End at the beginning--Manuscripts need beginnings, middles and ends.
The first paragraph should introduce your topic, directly or indirectly. I prefer an indirect approach, with a dose of intrigue or humor. That's how I started this piece. I recalled Mr. Rodente--a gimmick to attract your attention (sorry, Mr. Rodente)--while foreshadowing a discussion of how we write. If I'd stated, "The purpose of this month's column is to explore the role of style," I would have earned points for precision, but you might not have chosen to read this far.
An ending can be abrupt or a reminder to readers about your theme. The latter can offer closure by looping back to the beginning. Read on, and you'll see what I mean.
The middle is for exploring your theme and adding value--some sort of payoff to the public in exchange for their time spent reading your work. In this month's Life Support, I introduce my belief that online messaging can be dangerous, then give examples of consequences. I'd like to think that someone, somewhere, will take my advice and keep a job they might have lost through premature elaboration.
Be cautious with colloquial expressions--From Maine to Miami, along Interstate 95, English undergoes a major transformation. By the time you're two hours south of Boston, wicked is no longer a synonym for very. Continue past New York toward North Carolina, and fuhgeddabouddit starts meaning, literally, forget about it. Local dialects are no big deal--I mean, no problem--until your audience is more than an hour away. If you're writing for national media, avoid regional slang.
Redundancy is unnecessary--Some commonly used words and phrases take space without adding meaning. Ultimately, the fact is, in reality, in actuality, certainly, through the years, truly, with that said, and along those lines will contribute no more to your manuscript than your appendix does to digestion.
Brevity, variety, distinction--Mr. Rodente would approve.
Mike Rubin, BS, NREMT-P, is a paramedic in Nashville, TN, and a member of EMS World's editorial advisory board. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Related