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Experience + Research = Credible Writing

Aug 17, 2007
Credible writing starts with sound research. Then use your own experience to develop your material and you will write more authentically.

1. Define your reasons for writing

Who is your targeted reader? Where - and why - is he likely to meet problems? How much does he already know? What special knowledge do you have that can help him? What else do you need to find out? You cannot help your reader if you do not gain his respect.

2. Plan your methods of research

Revisit some of your favorite manuals or textbooks to refresh the basics. Read through recently published articles on your subject. You want your own article to be current.

When searching the web for background material, include the word "problems" along with the name or description of the object of your piece (e.g. "XYZ Ion Regenerator problems"). That will get you into company-sponsored user forums where you can discuss what problems real people are concerned with today.

Be prepared to sift through a volume of conflicting advice; here is where experience is absolutely necessary. Never try to wing it. If you have never actually used the XYZ Ion Regenerator, it would be too easy to misunderstand the subtleties, obscurities and downright misinformation common to open technical forums. That would surely destroy your credibility.

3. Write from personal experience

Include problems that you have faced, and solutions that you have found; that establishes your credibility at once. Real knowledge gained from experience zings with authority. Respect the semantic link between author and authority.

As an example, anyone could slap together a fair article on dog training. With 40 million web sites about this one subject, all you would have to do is skim through a few of them and cherry pick some thoughts. But if you are unable to structure your article around real anecdotes concerning dogs you have trained, your words will ring hollow.

4. Work experience as valid research

"Write what you know." Old advice, equally valid for writers of all genres. Base your writing on what you actually know and back it up with fresh research.

For instance, have you ever worked as a dishwasher? Good, then you should realize the difference between washing dishes in a restaurant and doing so in a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, the panic is always over flatware when people are pressing into line for a quick lunch and can't find any clean forks. (For some reason, the stainless steel seems to get dumped into the garbage along with the left-overs. Garbage cans in cafeterias now have magnets to prevent this.)

In a restaurant, on the other hand, the endless mountains of pots and pans from preparing many individual meals simultaneously is what kills dishwashers. (Not all cooks are quick to get their used cookware back to the scullery, causing recurring crises as the dishwasher struggles with waves of encrusted pots.)

Once you have this authentic background, can you find something useful there? Does it suggest an article about labor-saving practices, or a short story about personality clashes behind those kitchen doors?

As a babysitter, you might develop a great article about how to put children at ease before their parents leave.

Or, while reading aloud to the kids, you notice which stories they demand again and again. There is your research! Now make up some stories of your own. Test them on your charges; which ones do they keep asking for? You are now fine-tuning your first children's book.

Write from the strength of personal experience fortified by solid research. Sound research is its own reward; it leads you to what you need to write. Experience suggests how to structure your writing for credibility.
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