Last updated on March 11, 2011.
Thanks for your interest in writing and editing for Tips.Net. The information in this document has been prepared to help you do your work in a way that is most helpful to us. Please read it carefully. If you have any questions, please e-mail Allen Wyatt (use the e-mail address allen -at- sharonparq.com).
You'll notice that this document references several Microsoft Word styles, by name. Each of these names are underlined, so they can be easily distinguished from the surrounding document text. These styles are contained in the SPA Word template discussed in the Programs and Article Documents section. (For those who want to simply download the SPA Word template now, you can do so by right-clicking here, saving the file to your hard drive, and then unzipping it.)
For most Tips.Net writers, the titles of an article have already been determined prior to writing. (In other words, most Tips.Net writers receive their titles directly from Tips.Net without needing to create them on their own.)
If you need to create a title for an article, you should pay particular attention to how that title is put together. In particular, titles should:
Follow these guidelines and you'll create great titles every time.
In general, when either writing or editing, follow the Chicago Manual of Style.
First person singular is just fine, but not mandatory. You should not use first person plural. You are writing for a general audience, not a specialized audience. Tone should be casual with the material written to an 8th or 9th grade reading level.
Contractions are fine, but should not be overused. Try to avoid colloquialisms or that may limit the ability of the reader to identify with the content of the article.
Beware of anything that might be construed as sexist in nature and avoid such wording. For instance, if you write a tip on using coupons when shopping, saying something like "keep the coupons close at hand in your purse" could be construed as sexist because it implies that only women do the shopping or use coupons. Avoid such implications.
Write articles in American English, not UK English or some other variation of English.
Try, whenever possible, to give good, solid advice relative to the subject of the tip. Tips, whenever possible, should use a "how to" approach to the topic. If a "how to" approach will not fit within the current tip because of tip length, feel free to develop additional tips that support the article you wrote. For example, if you find yourself referring to a tutorial or how-to article on a different Web site, then such a tutorial or how-to article is a candidate for an additional tip article to support the tip you are currently writing. (If this is unclear, ask for clarification.)
If the article is a "how to" article (and most of the articles should be of this type), the idea is that when someone reads the article they should have all the information they need in order to accomplish whatever task is being described. They should be able to print out the article and use it as a guide for accomplishing the task, completely.
Target word count is 400 words per article. It is permissible to go over or under this target, but in no case should the word count be below 350. If 20% or more of your articles fall below the target word count, they will be returned to you for reworking. (The safest course is to assume that 400 words is the minimum word count and that your articles should be at that word count or longer.)
Feel free to do research using resources available on the Internet. You should never "copy and paste" things from the Internet into a tip. It is an absolute no-no to plagiarize someone else’s writing. (I will be doing periodic checks on this.) All writing needs to be original, in your own words.
If necessary, you can refer to products by name in the tip.
Format regular paragraphs within the tip using the Body text style.
There is an old adage that states that the best way to organize any short article is by dividing it into sections. The first section serves as an introduction, the second as the body, and the third as a wrap-up. A closely related adage states that you should "tell the reader what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them."
The bottom line is that your article needs to be organized. Normally this organization includes three parts that we will call the beginning, middle, and ending. To be complete your article must include all three parts.
The purpose of organization is to help (1) set the reader's expectation and (2) fulfill those expectations. When it comes non-fiction expository writing, a typical reader reads in order to find an answer to a question; this is their expectation. That question could be pressing or it could be purely inquisitory, but the reader expects to have some question answered by what he or she has chosen to read.
It is, therefore, the writer's responsibility to determine, beforehand, what questions the reader may ask (including the overarching question which applies to the article as a whole) and then answer those questions as completely and succinctly as possible. An article should always have one overarching question that serves as the premise for the existence of the article. It may also contain tangential questions that arise from a proper consideration of the overarching question. The overarching question must be reflected in the title of the article (although not necessarily in question form) in an inviting, enticing manner.
In order to set the reader's expectations, it is important to explicitly guide them as to what to expect, and this is done in the beginning of the article. This introduction should use as few sentences as possible. For instance, the following is a good introduction to a short article entitled Planning a Summer Vacation:
Many people dream of enjoying the warm summer sun in an exotic location or in some out-of-the-way personal paradise. Summer vacations don't need to be difficult to plan, nor do they need to involve long-distance travel. Over the years I've discovered some great ideas on how to plan domestic summer vacations, and I'll bet they can be applied to your situation, too. (Although foreign vacations can be fun and exciting, they require special considerations. For that reason I won't be discussing foreign vacations in this tip.)
The question implied in the title is "how do I plan my summer vacation?" This is the overarching question that the reader is looking to answer. Note that the author, in the article beginning, recognizes (and gives voice to) additional questions that the reader may have, such as those having to do with planning difficulty, long-distance travel, and foreign vacations. In just a few words the author managed the reader's expectations relative to those questions and, by the end of the article's beginning, the reader can very easily tell if the article is worth reading in full.
Note, as well, that the beginning draws the reader into the main body of the article. The best introductions are short, engaging, and complete (meaning that the possible tangential questions the reader may have are dealt with succinctly).
The middle portion (or body) of the article, which comprises the bulk of the article, needs to contain the answers to all those questions you haven't dispensed with in the article's beginning. This is where you provide answers in an engaging way in the right amount of depth so that the reader feels their reading is worthwhile. Spend the most time in the article's middle section and invite the reader (with your prose) to do the same.
The article ending is just as short as the beginning. It is where you tell the reader "what you told them." It reminds them of what they discovered in the answers you provided and it leads them, if appropriate, to places they can learn more.
Without an ending the article feels incomplete. The reader may feel that a sense of "closure" is missing and surmise that you don't really care about whatever the topic is and that you just wanted the article to be done and over with.
In the previous section you learned the importance of article organization and how the reader always comes to your article searching for answers to questions. If the question or questions that a reader may have are not answered within your article, then the reader's expectations are not fulfilled and he or she may rightfully determine that what was just read is devoid of any value to their purpose. (Again, their purpose is to have a question answered.)
In writing, "fluff" is one of any number of words that describe a condition that exists when words occupy space without conveying valuable meaning. Another way of saying this is that if the words in the article don't convey the value the reader is expecting, then they become fluff, effectively filler and background noise, little more than wasted time in the reader's day.
Signals that fluff may exist include redundancy, dead-ends, unnecessary tangents, non-starters, using too many words to convey a thought, and (occasionally) non-sequiturs. There is no absolute checklist for fluff, but a few commentators have attempted such a list. (See, for example, Fight the Fluff! by Robert Warren, a professional technical copywriter.)
It is relatively easy to recognize fluff in other people's writing. (More in a moment on recognizing fluff in your own writing.) It is a matter of reading the article and finding the question that is asked in the article or should be asked in the article. The answer must be succinct (as few words as possible), complete (leaving no unanswered tangential questions), organized (laid out in an orderly manner), and smooth (progressing through the organization without cognitive leaps).
Closely related to "fluff" are words and terms such as "lack of substance," "inconsequential," "meaningless," or "lacking." These phrases, however, are slightly different than "fluff" because they indicate a condition in which an article is judged incomplete in some manner. Writing can, therefore, "lack substance" yet still not burden the reader with fluff. A writer may create an article that is incomplete (and therefore lacks substance) yet, in an effort to achieve some desired word count, add verbiage that does not rectify the lack of substance and, instead, adds fluff. The article becomes longer, yet less informative to the reader than one might expect from the increased length.
Recognizing fluff in your own writing is more problematic because it requires you to put on "different hats" relative to your prose. It is sometimes difficult to look at your own writing with someone else's eyes, putting yourself fully in the role of a fresh reader. Yet, this is the very skill that is required for successfully ferreting out fluff.
Because readers bring different expectations and skill sets to bear on any writing, it can be invaluable for a writer to have a trusted editor (such as those at Tips.Net) who can critically evaluate their writing before the reading public has a chance to do so. The editor can more easily identify fluff than the writer can (for reasons already described) and tell the writer which portions of their prose need work.
Each article should start with a title provided to you by your contact at Tips.Net. The title should be in its own paragraph and formatted with the Heading 2 style.
If necessary, additional headings can be used within the article. If you choose to do this, these headings should be formatted with the Heading 3 style.
You should write a "summary" for each tip. This summary is not part of the tip, nor is it included in the tip's word count. The summary should be placed at the beginning of the article and be easily identifiable. The summary should be at least two sentences long and not more than five sentences long. Format summary paragraphs using the Summary style provided in the SPA Word template.
Every article should include three resource links. These resource links are not part of the tip, nor are they incuded in the tip's word count. These links should be to high quality content on the Web related to the topic of the article. Each of the three resources should contain the following, in the order indicated:
Resources may be published along with your article. If a reader of your article clicks on a resource link, they should not start reading and think "Wow. I'm reading the same thing that I just read at Tips.Net." If this happens, you need a different resource link. The links are not to research material you used to write your tip. These links should provide authoritative additional information on the topic at hand, not the same material reworded.
Resources should be as focused and unique as possible. For instance, if you are writing an article for Beauty.Tips.Net, one of the resources should not be to another beauty tips site; that is too generic. Instead, it should be to a specific article on that other site. The more specific you can be, the better, as it reduces the chances of duplication in the resources posted on Tips.Net.
To format the resource links, on a new paragraph type the words "Resource Links". Format the paragraph using the Body text style, and then format it as bold. Each of the three resource links should then be in their own paragraph, constructed as noted above. Format each paragraph using the Body text style, then select the first element (the name of the resource) and format it as bold.
Feel free to use bulleted lists and numbered lists, as appropriate. They break up the text and provide a "check list" of things that people should do. Just remember that you should only use numbered lists if the items in the list must be done in order. If this is not the case, then the list should be a bulleted list.
Numbered lists are a natural when using a "how to" approach in an article. They allow you to tell the reader how to accomplish a task.
Do not allow Microsoft Word to format lists for you automatically, and do not use the list tools on the Word Formatting toolbar. If, when creating a numbered or bulleted list, Word tries to format the list for you automatically, you need to turn off this capability. This article explains how to turn off automatic bulleted lists, and this article explains how to turn off automatic numbered lists. (Both of these articles are good examples of using a "how to" approach to a topic, and both use numbered lists to specify the steps that should be performed.)
Bulleted lists, when implemented correctly, should use two styles from the SPA Word template. All items in the list, with the exception of the final item, should be formatted using the Bulleted List style. The final item in the list should be formatted using the Bulleted List (Last) style.
If creating a numbered list, each item in the list should be its own paragraph and should start with a digit (1, 2, 3, etc.) followed by a period and a tab. When you do this, Word may try to apply "automatic formatting" to the paragraph. Please reject this helpfulness right away by pressing Ctrl+Z to undo the formatting. Then, turn off automatic formatting of numbered lists using the information earlier in this section.
Items in a numbered list should be formatted using the Numbered List style, with the exception of the final list item. It should be formatted using the Numbered List (Last) style.
When putting together in-line lists, make sure there is a comma or semi-colon (as appropriate) before the conjunction preceding the last item in the list.
Writing and editing is to be done using Microsoft Word. Either PC or Mac versions of the program are just fine. You should not do your writing in a different program (such as WordPerfect or Open Office) and try to save your file in a Word format. Some people have tried this, often with unsatisfactory results.
There is no need to put the tips in individual files; you can (and should) have multiple tips per file. It is expected that all the tips making up a batch will be in a single Word document.
When writing/editing, you should use the Microsoft Word template provided for creating tips. (You can download the template by right-clicking on this link and saving the file to your hard drive. The download is in a compressed ZIP format; you will need to uncompress it to get to the actual template file.)
The Tips.Net template should be attached to your Word document file so the styles it contains are available throughout the document. Styles are referred to throughout this style guide; each reference to a style name is underlined.
Some people have opened the SPA Word.dot template and expressed surprise that it is "empty" (there is no text in it). This is by design; a template is a special type of Word document that contains nothing but styles (again, the styles referenced throughout this style guide) that you use to format the text you write. (To understand more about what a template is, refer to this article.) To use the template, you follow these general steps:
You must understand that formatting your articles using the SPA Word.dot template file, using the styles outlined in this style guide, is imperative. If you do not format your articles correctly, your submissions will be rejected. If you need help understanding what styles are and how to apply them within a document, refer to this article.
As you are done with groups of tips, e-mail them to your contact at Tips.Net. Submissions should contain 20 to 25 tips at a time. Send an e-mail explaining what you've completed, and then attach the Word document containing the submission.
When you are done with all the work associated with a particular purchase order, please submit an invoice to your contact at Tips.Net. This is important; without the invoice, you cannot get paid. Payment will generally be made, by check, within one week of submitting the invoice. Please make sure that the invoice contains a complete description of what it is for. The best way to make sure that this is the case is to reference your purchase order number on the invoice.
Invoices should be made out to:
Sharon Parq Associates, Inc.
PO Box 1187
Mountain View, WY 82939
You can either e-mail the invoice to your Tips.Net contact as a PDF file, or send it via US Mail.
If you have any questions about this document, please contact Allen Wyatt at allen -at- sharonparq.com, or call me at 801-607-2035.
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