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Contribution Guidelines : Style Guide

The editing process deserves your full attention. While the art of writing often occurs in the first draft, the real craft lies in the editing. Your first draft may say roughly what you mean, but you can always find ways to significantly improve it. The ideas below are meant to streamline and sharpen text for publication. Avoid the danger zones, but never lose your spark. That balance is very important.

STYLE POINTERS

  1. Use a spell and grammar checker before submitting your piece. Trim overly long sentences, remove excess prepositional phrases, and delete adjectival strings. Make an effort to maintain variation in sentence length.

  2. Break up long paragraphs when necessary and where appropriate. In general, it's good to aim for an average paragraph length of around 4-5 sentences. This is important because internet readers are very easily distracted, and regular paragraph breaks allow them to stay focused on the page. This is an online publication, not a print publication.

  3. Find alternatives to the verb "to be." You can almost always find a more interesting way to phrase things than saying "X is Y." Interesting verbs make writing exciting; flat verbs make it stupefying. (A few more flat verbs: "to say," "to have," "to do.") It's usually best to root out these banal verbs after you've finished your first draft, when you're fine-tuning the piece.

  4. Avoid the passive voice. For example, instead of saying "The record was made by Butch," you should say "Butch made the record." Usually you'll have to rearrange the sentence, but direct writing always works better. If you have any questions about the difference between the active and passive voice, spend a few minutes boning up on the subject with your favorite grammar guide.

  5. Avoid gratuitous references to yourself. Most readers have no interest in the personal life or experience of the writer, unless it relates directly and uniquely to the work at hand. Your goal should be to personalize your piece without referencing yourself, so be indirect about it. Give opinions and state the emotional effects of the work without discussing yourself. This also includes using terms like "this listener" or "this reviewer." Remember: a review is always tacitly reflects the perspective of the author; it's not necessary to say it directly.

  6. Avoid telling the reader what he/she will experience. It's a faulty assumption to suggest that all readers, even if they hear the music, view the painting, or eat the dessert, will experience it the same way you do. So avoid saying things like "you will be enthralled by Johnny Doe's inherent lyricism" or "the listener is drawn into Johnny Doe's unique universe."

  7. Avoid use of phrases like "Check out...". Most readers won't have the opportunity to hear the music, view the art, or eat the dish being discussed. Find a more general way to make the same point.

  8. Avoid suggestions of reader deficiency. Telling a reader that if they don't experience the subject the way you do means there's something wrong with them is a dangerous tactic, even if the intent is to suggest that everyone will experience the same excitement you do. First, not everyone will; second, it's not a good idea to make any potentially negative suggestions about the reader.

  9. Use full names or last names when referring to artists. The use of first names should be reserved for cases where different family members are involved (or a few other special exceptions). First name references create a chummy atmosphere which isolates the reader and often denies the subject full respect.

  10. Do not refer to a release as "the artist's latest" (or "newest," "most recent," etc.). Your words are going into an archive. What is new now will not be so new another decade down the road.

  11. Do not suggest that readers purchase the subject's works under review. This sort of commercial behavior is entirely inconsistent with editorial objectivity. The point of writing a review is to assess the subject at hand, not to sell it. The only time when you should provide information about how to buy a the subject's works is when it is not available through the usual outlets (eg. only from a specialized web site).

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