Writing for Readers: It’s All About Me!

Posted on February 2, 2011


In my former life as editor of Hoof Beats magazine, I attended a meeting of American Horse Publication where writing coach Ann Wylie gave a fantastic presentation on how to make our magazine articles better, and I use her advise every day.

Now, as a writing professor, I am the one giving advice, but I still (constantly) seek suggestions I can share with my students to help make their writing better and, I admit, to help reinforce to them the topics that we cover.

Today that made me love Ann Wylie all over again!

Image by Hugh MacLeod at GapingVoid.com

The title of Ann’s monthly e-zine, pushed today, was “Make it about me,” which is a message I have been hammering home to my students since we were together in Comm 421. Writing is all about the reader, I tell them, as I encourage the to ask with every article, “What does the reader want to know?”

Anne today wrote about screenwriter Norah Ephron (once married to Watergate’s Carl Bernstein for your trivia of the day) who in her first high school journalism class was asked to write a lead from these facts:

“Kenneth L. Peters, the principle of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”

The students’ leads reflected the who, what, when, where and why of the story into a single sentence: “Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School faculty Thursday in Sacramento …”

The teacher’s lead: “There will be no school next Thursday.”

Remember, it is all about what the reader wants to know!

From Ann Wylie:

Move from event to impact.

What’s the point of your news story? It’s probably not really the five W’s and the H. Instead of focusing on the event, focus in the        impact, or how the news affects your readers.

Covering a:

  • Speech? Write about the most valuable thing the speaker said, not the fact that she spoke.
  • Event? Focus on what people will be able to see and do at the event, not the time, date and place that the event occurred.
  • Meeting? Center the piece on what was decided at the meeting and how it will affect the reader, not on the logistics of the meeting itself.

Ann publishes a great e-zine with writing tips that gets pushed out monthly at http://freewritingtips.wyliecomm.com.

Hope you will check it out and let me know what you think.