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Contribution Guidelines : Effective Communication

THREE GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Audience. Before you begin typing, consider who will be reading what you write. A range of readers come to 360MainStreet.com for a variety of reasons. Though they all share curiosity and enthusiasm, they'll vary widely in their previous exposure to the site, and in their own cultural diversities. Depending on the setting, you'll be addressing a specific group. It's best to try to be inclusive:

  1. Present a few general ideas about your subject that anyone can appreciate.
  2. Place your subject within his, her, or its natural setting within our community.
  3. Offer a few specialized details that true afficionados will appreciate.

Avoid being overly formal, since that repels casual readers, but keep it serious enough that people will take you seriously. Vocabulary choices and style of expression are important here.

Message. The way you choose to organize your writing is critical. If you can provide a theme to guide the flow, you'll find it more natural to write coherently--and readers will appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider larger ideas they can consider as the definitive essence of what you're trying to communicate. No need to be singular about your message; in fact, the best writing combines and interlaces broader ideas in a revealing, intuitive way.

Evidence. Evidence is the partner to message: without one, the other is useless. Whenever you make a point about the the subject, provide some details to back it up. The degree of specificity depends on the nature of the claim, of course, but basic descriptions are the main fodder here. Evidence serves a logical role as support for any larger ideas you choose to present, and it also serves as an independent vehicle for readers to assess the validity of your claims. If and when you discuss individual pieces, try to think like a critic would: make note of high and low points, and aim your focus at the specific details which deserve special attention (and why).

YOUR LEAD SENTENCE

Make your lead sentence shine. The usual ways to do this are to offer intrigue or provoke a reaction. Try to get the reader to ask "why?" right away. Tie in an overriding concept which you can reference later in your submission. For example:

"A visit to the Schuch Hotel can be like stepping into a time capsule."

The lead sentence is the way you grab the reader's attention, so give it high priority during the writing process. Avoid starting a piece by stating the lineup of a band, detailing the personal history of an artist, or offering a detailed description of the music, sculpture, or most delectable dish on the menu. Instead, employ your creative powers to come up with something special: an overriding question or issue. The added bonus of this kind of approach is that you get a touchstone for use later in your piece; and your piece will have more coherent structure.

EFFICIENCY

Try to communicate information, opinion, and experience as accurately, cleverly, and succinctly as possible. Repetition and redundancy should only exist to serve a purpose. Always bear in mind the point of view of the reader, which is usually to absorb as much as possible in as little time as possible. Literary tools like metaphor, simile, sarcasm, analogy, and irony are your best allies for keeping the reader's attention and accomplishing this goal.

Freshness is everything. Avoide cliches at every opportunity. Tired old phrases bog down your writing and make it significantly less fun to read. Avoid phrases like "a fascinating disc," "a unique approach" or "tremendous taste." Instead, try to give a detailed justification which will allow the reader to reach these conclusions on his own. Always use evidence to support your conclusions.

Present an angle which is unique to the subject at hand. Try to let readers know what makes a particular approach different and notable. For example, you might say:

"The Magic Bean's eye awakening expressos contrast sharply with its cool and creamy gelatto creations."

Present a balanced perspective about the subject. When considering the relative merits of your subject, also pay attention to its shortcomings. Likewise, when pointing out weaknesses, identify strengths. When you want to emphasize your opinions, always provide relevant straightforward information about the subject, which allows readers to assess whatever bias you're using in coming to your conclusion. This is essential. The best way to handle value judgments in reviews is to provide descriptions about your subject, then aim your like/dislike in specific ways. Words like "good," "nice," "bad," "poor," and so forth work best when used sparingly. (See above regarding freshness.) Words like "perfect," "masterpiece," "disaster," and "failure" are to be used with extreme caution. Readers are very sensitive to unreasonable aesthetic judgments; if your goal is to convince them of your point of view, reasonable understatement always works better than heavy-handedness.

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