Accuracy in Professional writing

The challenge in professional writing is explaining complex technical concepts in an easy understandable manner, with accuracy. How can accuracy be maintained while avoiding jargon, equations and formulae? Writing to popularize a scientific or technical matter is thus always a struggle for any writer as there is a looming trepidation of trivializing the findings or providing false hypothesis or vague allusions. There is also a danger of writing as a technical expert which a layman cannot understand discouraging him or her from reading the whole paper.

There are no simple answers to the question. Three factors must be considered while writing a technical or scientific paper or article. First factor is space constraint; the space for any journalistic writing is limited and it’s impossible to cover all aspects in the writing. It is, therefore, important to decide what to take, which angle to focus on and what to reject. The second is the audience. The general public or people from different fields are also interested in the information but might not be aware of the technical details. Thirdly, the market and social context should be kept in mind. The work of a professional writer is to connect science and technology to its social significance.

While writing on a scientific or technical matter one should be carefully select information to be used, use visualisation and explanation of concepts in terms of images and stories. Avoid exaggeration, generalization or sensationalization of the subject.

The term accuracy not only means checking that the text is factually and grammatically correct, but also that the text confirms to all the style guidelines.

Four steps should be kept in mind while ensuring that accuracy is maintained in professional writing:

  • Double check the facts

The most important point to remember is that what ever you write must be in grammatically correct prose without going wrong on facts. While proofreading one should double-check all statistics, numbers, dates, names with their spellings from a reliable source.

  • Don’t use spell-check, blindly

Spell-check indicates and even automatically corrects spelling mistakes and typos, but one has to be very cautious while running a spell-check as it keeps giving you alternatives, which might not be correct, in the present context.

The names of people, places, and organizations are should be checked manually. Number, dates, sections, and page numbers also should be looked over carefully followed by punctuation and grammar.

  • Maintain a consistent style throughout

It is preferable to follow a particular style guide as a reference to ensure style consistency in every document. The key to using a style guide effectively is simply choosing one and stick to it this gives consistency and professional touch.

  • Get an objective opinion

Get someone else who is well read and has proper knowledge grammar read the writing to give an objective feedback on the writing. The objective reader need not be from the field you are writing about; rather it is preferable that he or she belongs to a different subject.

Keep a sharp eye on factual errors, style inconsistencies, misspellings, or grammatical mistakes while writing any piece of communication.

Journalistic Style: Language and Techniques

Business and technology journalistic writing make the reader familiar with unknown concepts and happenings. They achieve it by presenting the information that is relevant to the readers in a creative way. This involves a lot of analyzing and synthesizing of information on the part of the writer. The writer must keep the following techniques in mind:

  • Factual: The writer must try to give as much factual information as possible. The 5Ws (What, When, Where, Why, Who) and 1H (How) help in achieving this.
  • Rational: Readers are always on the lookout for evaluative judgment, which can be found only in rational approaches.
  • Specific: The writer must give specific details with examples, wherever possible. People like reading about others: so, quotes, success stories and testimonials can be included. In some cases, experimental evidence can be provided in support of the statements.
  • Technical: Uninformed readers find the usage of technical jargon to be very tedious. In case jargons are used, they should be relevant to the context and easily identifiable. The writer should present the information by acting as someone who knows the inside story of the industry as if he is someone who is experiencing the same as others. That will help the readers to identify with the topic.

Organisation Of Content In Features

Usually, most of the business and technology magazine articles are organised according to the following methods.

(1)  Descriptive method “ This method focuses on the product analysis or the development concerning its constituent parts. While following this method, it is essential to describe the product qualities and benefits, as well as explain the possible applications and examples of use.

(2)  Comparative method “ This method describes and evaluates the product relative to competitors in the market. While following this method, it is essential to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of products for different users, as well as evaluate their position in the market.

(3)  Progressive/historical method “ This method focuses on the qualities and functions of a product concerning its development from a previous form. While following this method, it is necessary to tell a story, comparing the current market situation of the product with parallel cases in the past and pointing out analogies. Besides, focus on innovations and on the specific attributes and benefits, which make the product a novelty.

Thus, depending on the article length, select any one method or mix the three. Thoroughly judge the organisation of information, which would best allow you to present your object in the most appealing and effective way. Moreover, remember that the order in which the information is presented in a text is a strategic device, which provides the writer with the means to manipulate information so as to produce the most desired effect. For instance, if you are attempting to motivate readers to tryout a course of action, it would be counterproductive to begin with the cost or the disadvantages. Basically, this would be beginning with a weakness that could well defeat your intention. Instead, include the cost or disadvantages at a strategic position, after you have highlighted the advantages and qualities.

Press release

In an era of unprecedented information overload, there is always a danger of your news being overlooked by the media. Press release plays an important role in spreading the word to the media, which acts as a link between the news and public. A press release is the official version of a company or person about any issue to the media. Press releases target media persons or houses to announce something novel or important work or events. Press releases can also be follow-up reports about new developments or clarifications about an ongoing issue.

Press releases are given by hand or sent through e-mail, fax, post or are up loaded in a company’s website. They can also be part of a full press kit along with testimonials, quotes and additional information which will help the reporter make a good story.

The information in a press release cannot be uncontrolled; therefore, the facts and information should be given in a clear and concise manner which cannot be misinterpreted. Clear organization and adequate facts are the thumb rule of a good press release.  A press release is written in an inverted pyramid style.

Parts of a Press Release:

a) Headline: This is the most important line in a release it decides the fate of the news whether it will be considered newsworthy or not by the reporter and it is always in the present tense.

b) Sub headline: This line explains and expands the headline, filling in information with names and the implications of the headline.

c) Lead paragraph: This paragraph contains the 5Ws and 1H (who, what, when, where and how) of the news.

d) Body: The subsequent paragraphs provide additional information and official quotes.

e) Address bar: Placed at the end of the press release it contains contact information, mobile number and website address.

Note: For immediate release or embargo time for release is clearly mentioned in the top of a press release

Things to Remember:

  • Write with an audience in mind; make the news release in form of a news story.
  • Do not exaggerate, make false claims, stick to correct facts and figures, avoid hyperboles like path breaking, unique, etc.
  • Always write objectively as a journalist, avoid subjective references like “I” or “we” other than in a quote.
  • Copy a good newspaper writing style while writing a press release.
  • Follow the K.I.S.S rule, keep it simple and short. If you can put your information in two pages, good, but one page is even better.

Follow up with a call to confirm if the targeted person has received the press release or not.

The Inverted Pyramid

The Inverted Pyramid framework is the most conventional principle, which is followed for professional writing. Many people have been critical about it, but it has survived for more than a century. As per this principle, the most important point or essential element of an article should be placed at the top. In other words, the facts should be sequenced in descending order of importance. This might seem a bit blunt, but it is most effective.

Advantages

  • The readers can judge quickly whether they want to read the entire article or not.
  • Even if the readers decide to stop reading at any particular point, they have already grasped the main point of your article.
  • The first few sentences provide a quick overview of the entire article.
  • It is of great advantage to editors. In case an article exceeds its specified space, they can easily trim the content from the bottom instead of starting from the first and changing the entire structure.
  • It captures and retains the readers’ interest. If the beginning is not captivating, readers skim for other alternatives.
  • Creating headlines becomes easier and faster through it.
  • It improves the creative and organizational capability of the writer.

PARAGRAPHING

Paragraphing helps in dividing the material into separate interlinked units, which the readers readily cope with and assimilate into their understanding. The main aim of paragraphs and sections is to divide and prioritise the information into meaningful chunks. This, in turn, helps to highlight the points and issues, encouraging a sense of sequence and development. Therefore, for researcher/writer, paragraphing offers a powerful tool for articulating and critiquing their ideas. While, for a communicator, it helps in keeping their reader focused on the topic and line of logic.

Magazine article paragraphs are usually short, comprising two or three sentences only. Even one-sentence paragraphs are acceptable in articles, as long as they do not run in succession. Like short sentences, short paragraphs have a more intense effect than the longer ones as they concentrate meaning into a few words, which stand out from the rest of the text. For this reason, one-sentence paragraphs in magazine articles are often placed at strategic places to provide a striking effect.

In most cases, magazines are read in leisure time. Writers, therefore, realise that readers will not likely invest their time and attention required to absorb a complex document. Accordingly, the writer presents the information succinctly and directly without elaboration and in-depth analysis. Besides, the tone should have a conversational impact rather than conceptual density. Moreover, magazine articles also compete for attention. As opposed to a formally commissioned report, which assumes that the reader has a vested interest in reading it closely, a magazine article often needs to capture the reader’s attention. In this situation, having long paragraphs would be daunting, as well as discouraging. Hence, the articles should be preferably short, precise and to the point.

Layout Considerations And Page Design

Different magazines have different layout styles, which determine the content choices. This means that a magazine will not change its layout and the space allotted to each article type, to accommodate a particular article. The article would be edited and formatted in the magazines standard manner.

Main layout considerations include:

  • Space: Each article has a word limit to accommodate it in the space allotted in the magazines layout.
  • Paragraph length: Magazine articles have shorter paragraphs compared to reports and essays.
  • Visuals: Visuals are often used to add more clarity to the article and are designed considering the target audiences needs and expectations.
  • Sections and headings: Sections are designed according to the space allotted for an article. Crossheads are used as a form of signposting to direct readers attention.

Page design is divided into four aspects:

  • Proximity: This refers to the spatial layout that displays related objects. For example, you be placed close to each other and to the relevant text.
  • Alignment: This refers to balancing the positions of horizontal and vertical elements on a page in relation to each other. For example, you can align the objects on the left with the left edge of the page and the objects on the right with the right edge of the page.
  • Repetition: This refers to the repetition of elements that bind different sections together. Bullet points, colors, and typefaces can be repeated for a visual impact and to help readers recognize and scan through pages easily and quickly.
  • Contrast: This is the opposite of repetition. It refers to putting together different elements and creating a visual impression. The use of contrasting elements acts as an information hierarchy. It introduces an element of surprise and indicates that the article has depth and variety. It can be used in colors, fonts and direction. To create an effective and impressive publication, you need to balance repetition and contrast.

Journalists use different terminologies to talk about the layout of articles and pages:

  • Title: This is used for all articles except new stories; headline is used for news stories. Titles can be creative and cryptic; headlines are not: they are structured in sentence form, present tense. For example, a title can be Swept Away; a headline can be Largest Tsunami Ever Recorded Hits Country.
  • Pullquote: It refers to using text of an article as a highlighting device “ the pullquotes from an article should be able to tell a story (i.e., summarize the main points of the article).
  • Subhead: It refers to the text that comes below the title and is used to give more information on the articles topic. Subheads are useful when the title is too enigmatic and needs explanation.
  • Crosshead: It is the journalistic term for heading.
  • Caption: It is the text that accompanies a visual.

Business and Technology Journalism

Types of Articles

Feature Articles

Features are an elaboration of topics that were published in newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, television broadcasts and other mass media. They focus on particular people, places and events. They cover topics the in-depth, explaining the most interesting and important elements of an event. Feature writers have the freedom and time to fill in details of the circumstances and atmosphere.

News Stories

News stories focus on local, regional, national, and international events of importance. For describing the facts, they follow the 5Ws and 1H approach. They should be unbiased and accurate. New articles should contain pertinent information arranged in an inverted pyramid style. To apply the concept to news, the most important details are considered as the widest layer of the pyramid, its base. The least important details are placed at the top. People just skim through the news, so the most important facts and details should be placed at the beginning.

Editorials

Editorials are opinion articles. They comment on a certain issue, topic, subject matter or news event. They build on an argument and try to sway the readers to think the same way as they do. Editorials are meant to influence public opinion and sometimes cause people to take action on a particular issue.

Opinions

Opinion articles provide a personal, often speculative, viewpoint or hypothesis on a topic of current interest. They may be regarding recent publications or discuss any current hot issues from the author’s point of view.

Reviews

Review articles are critical reviews of a topical and significant area of research. They should aim to provide an in-depth discussion of the current progress and problems, and should not consist of an account of every paper on that topic. They do not contain any original research. They aim to compare their analysis with others in the same field, showing its advantages and disadvantages.

Interviews

These articles are in a questionnaire form. They focus on the contribution of an individual to a particular topic.

Transitional Words, Phrases and Sentences

Transitional words, phrases and sentences regulate the flow of paragraphs and sections. Besides, transitional sentences, as well as, in longer documents, transitional paragraphs can be used between one section and another.

Two common forms of transition are described below.

1)  Using a short sentence to state briefly your intended meaning in the next paragraph. For example, you might say, So far we have been discussing unemployment. Now we consider inflation. This could occur at the end of one paragraph or at the beginning of the next, depending on the paragraphs length and its desired effect. However, the new paragraph would begin more intensely, if its topic had already been introduced in the previous paragraph.

2)  Repeating a keyword or phrase, in order to echo the point made in a previous paragraph. In fact, synonyms can also be used for this purpose. For example, observe the following extract, from an article on evolution, for how this technique has been used. Besides, I have italicized the transitional sentences and the cohesive devices in the following paragraph:

Understanding the shape of the tree of life and the details of its branches are more than a quaint sideline of biology, even though the science of this quest, known as systematic, has come to be regarded by many biologists as dowdy and old fashioned, little more than stamp collecting. But, such an understanding is probably the best foundation for a larger appreciation of life, including evolution, ecology and behaviour. As Colin Patterson, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum of London, said: To retrieve the history of life, to reconstruct the evolutionary tree, is still the aim of evolutionary biology. Getting it right is therefore important.

COHESION

Cohesion words or phrases define the association between one sentence and the next. These words or phrases link a sentence with its pervious or next sentence, thus, helping readers to relate the sentences and the authors intended meaning. The writer can use but, however, in spite of, or some other similar linking word or phrase; however, one should take care of correct grammatical structure.

Let us take the examples of some cohesion words and the relationship they express.

  • Enumerative cohesion words/phrases introduces the order in which points will be made. Examples: first, second; one, two; a, b; next, then, subsequently, finally, in the end
  • Additive words reinforce or confirm what was said. Examples: again, then again, also, moreover, furthermore, in addition, what is more

These words also highlight similarity. Examples: equally, likewise, similarly, correspondingly, in the same way

  • Explanatory words introduce examples. Examples: for example, for instance
  • Illustrative words note alternatives. Examples: alternatively, or again, or rather, but then, on the other hand

Other cohesion words include synonyms, referential pronouns, parallel structure, etc.

Synonyms:

These are words with closely related meanings and help in addressing excessive repetition. If you used approach in one sentence and want to repeat the same idea, then you can use its synonym method in the next sentence. Similarly, for skill, you can use ability, and so no.

However, one should make sure not to overuse them as its excessive usage can make your document confusing and unclear.

Referential pronouns:

If two sentences begin with the same subject, then you can use a personal or referential pronoun in the second sentence instead of the word itself (I, he, she, it, we, they, this, that, these). However, if the use of a pronoun makes the sentence confusing, then you should repeat the noun.

Parallel structures:

Parallelism refers to similar grammatical structures of headings and sentences used within a paragraph, and it adds clarity to your paragraph.

Not parallel: These books are not primarily for reading, but they are used for reference.

Parallel: These books are not primarily for reading but for reference.

Not parallel: Not only is he conscientious worker, but also he is very competent.

Parallel: Not only is he conscientious but also competent.

Parallelism is also important in instructions.

A. Setting up the printer, maintenance, and what to do if something goes wrong are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

B. Setting up the printer, maintaining it and troubleshooting are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.