The Commons volunteer team recently sat down with Joel Dignam for a workshop on writing engaging articles. You might recognise Joel’s name from one of the many articles he’s contributed to The Commons library.
Want a behind-the-scenes look at Joel’s writing process? We took the time to jot down some of his top tips for getting your message across.
Often we’re drawn to an article because of the content… How do I make the audience see how this content is relevant and important for them?
You make it possible for your audience to grasp the ideas at a more intuitive level if you can tell them the relationship between the ideas… Apparently really good chess players, they don’t see each individual piece… they can chunk whole segments of the board… because they understand the game so well: they experience less complexity because they’ve got these chunks in their minds.
I think for you as a writer, you want to understand the content that well, and be able to communicate that experience for your audience. – Joel Dignam
Before you start writing, check in to make sure you know what information you’re trying to convey. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, you can’t expect your readers to!
- What is my article about?
- What is the core message I want to share with my audience?
- What are my key ideas? How do I make them clear to my audience?
- What journey am I taking my audience on?
- How do I make my audience see that the content is important?
Once you’ve figured out what your article is about, it’s important to organise your ideas into a clear structure. You’re taking your audience on a journey – so you want to make sure you’re laying out regular signposts for them so they don’t get lost!
Our tips for keeping your structure clear:
- Divide your content into 3 core points*
- Signpost: once you’ve divided up your content keep letting your readers know where they are in the structure
- Try to keep a consistent structure throughout your article – if you’re not sure where to start, look at articles on similar topics
* Tip: If you’ve got a lot of content it’s a good idea to nest your ideas in a hierarchy. Try grouping similar ideas together into more manageable chunks (1: a, b, c; 2, a, b, c; 3: a, b, c).
Tone and formatting
You know your topic and how you’re going to structure your information – now it’s time to start writing!
While you’re writing, think about how you want your piece to come across. How are you going to keep your reader engaged?
Keep it conversational: write in a way that makes the writing and reading enjoyable
- Try breaking up long chunks of text with quote boxes, bullet points, images and subheadings
- Ask questions so your reader feels like they’re part of the conversation
- Try writing techniques like alliteration for more impact (top tip!)
We all start somewhere. I don’t regret [my old writing] because they were the stepping stones. So certainly, just start. – Joel Dignam
One of my favourite takeaways from the session was that no-one’s writing starts out perfect! We can use these tips to guide us through the process, but the best way to improve is to practice. As Joel said: “you’ll find your own voice”.
- Harvard Essay Writing Guide
- How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
- How to Get Your Op-Ed Published
- Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
- Guide to writing for the Commons Library
Excited to start writing your next article? Think you’ve got a topic that would be great for the Commons? We’re always on the lookout for new content related to social change so get in touch with your ideas: [email protected]