Everyone has their own way to write an article. Everyone has their own voice and individual style, and a way of adapting that style depending on what they want to write. In this article, I’m not going to speak to finding your voice or style , but I am going to share with you the method I use to craft articles and presentations.
While the method I describe here is primarily for more technical and clinical articles, it can also be applied to blog posts, editorial, and opinion pieces. I’m not saying that this system works for every kind of writing, but if you’re looking for a place to start, this may help.
Please note that while these steps are in order of their general progression, there is a great deal of overlap. Often, the next step is started while the previous one is still in progress.
- Search: I begin with a simple Web search of words and phrases associated with the topic about which I am writing. This gives me an idea of what else has already been written on this subject, where to look for further information, and aspects of this subject I might not previously have considered. I typically continue my searches until results begin to repeat or until I get back no results on a particular search term.
- File: My next step is to organize the results of my search. Notice that I still do not say research, which we will get to later. I begin by creating a folder on my computer and naming it using either the title of the article (if I have one) or the topic I am writing about. Inside that folder I create subfolders for each of the topics that I’ve discovered through my Web search. Into those subfolders I’ll put the URLs, PDFs, power points, documents, and other results of my Web search.
- Research: Depending on the topic and the audience, the article may require more specific research. Most times this will involve obtaining and evaluating scientific evidence, but it may involve interviews and actual independent research. This research is then organized in the same way as the results from the Web search.
- Outline: While I usually continue Web searching and research throughout the entire writing process, at this point I take a look at the subfolders into which I’ve organized my material thus far. I make these into the subtopics of my article and I begin to organize them into an outline. Though I usually decide to work on an article because of a particular premise or idea of what I want to say, nine times out of ten the information I begin to collect steers me in a different direction. This is the point at which it’s very easy for an article to stall. I’ve learned not to get discouraged if an article doesn’t seem to be going where I originally thought it was. I’ve come to enjoy learning as I write, and believe that when you put ideas and subtopics into an outline they often fall naturally into the right order with only a little bit of nudging. Just remember that sometimes you’ll find pieces that just don’t fit in this particular article. When that happens, it’s okay to get rid of them. Remember, you’re just saving them for another article later on.
- Citations: While some of the results of my Web search and research may simply give me new ideas, a good deal of these results will need to be cited as references. I find it much easier to begin that process now. Citations can even be useful in editorial and opinion pieces as they can help you point the reader to more information that supports your argument and will help them take the action that you want them to take. I use commercial software (Papers, Endnote) to help me manage citations because it makes my life much easier, but you can certainly do it by hand. Once you have your citations and references in place in your outline, it will be much easier to keep track of them as you move to draft and then write the final article.
- Premise: It may seem odd to just be getting to the premise this far into the writing process. Of course, you must’ve started with the premise, some kind of idea, or you would not have begun the article in the first place. This is the point where we need to lock it down. Again, don’t stay tied to your original premise if your research is leading you elsewhere. You’ll just wind up coloring the research to meet that original premise and the end result will be unpleasant at best. Your outline at this point should pretty well reflect the body of your article. Locking down your premise will help you set up your introduction and conclusion, which you should also now add to the outline.
- First Draft: Much has been written about the theory and practice of good story structure. My suggestion is to learn all you can, because here is where it comes into play. As we go from outline to draft, we take a jumble of information and turn it into a story. Remember that no matter what kind of article it is, you’re writing because you want the reader to change something about what they do. Merely presenting the reader with information is virtually never enough to accomplish this. As human beings, we are motivated by stories; as you flesh out the bullet points of your outline into a first and then later drafts of your article, keep in mind that this is a story, not just a carefully thought-out collection of information presented as a list of sentences.
- Final Draft: While there may be many intermediate steps between first draft and final draft, the final draft should truly reflect the story that you want to tell. After all, you wrote it for the purpose of getting the reader to take action of some kind. Of course, to truly evaluate this you have to hand this final draft off to someone else to read. Because you’re the person who’s guided the article through every step so far, you can no longer be objective about what it is saying to someone else. This is where you need to give the article to a trusted friend and editor for comments and corrections. We’re almost there. This is the final hurdle, but it can be the most difficult.
- Finished Product: I say finished product because although we’ve been discussing writing an article, as I said in the beginning I use the same process when I’m creating a new presentation or an educational program. What these all have in common is this: I’m seeking to present new information to my audience in story form to get them to take action in some new way. The medium through which I deliver it may be a printed article, a podcast, a PowerPoint slide deck, or any other format. The development is still the same.
If you’re looking for a way to begin, or perhaps to revise how you develop articles or presentations I hope that you find this helpful. This is certainly not the only way, but it’s a method that I have found consistently effective in keeping me on track in developing teaching stories of which I am proud. However you choose to develop your stories, I encourage you to write. To meet the challenges that we’re facing now and in the future, emergency services needs new ideas and new voices. Please, add yours to the chorus.