"And poetry, too, is constructed by machines of different design,
Each with a gauge and a chopper to see to the length of the line."
Will Carlton's farmer who visited the editorial sanctum may have understood how to raise beets and cabbages, but his cocksuredness and abysmal ignorance .about "printin' " did not recommend him very highly to the editor of his country weekly. How true it is of writing, as also of public address, that "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver." Prov. 25:11, R.V. If to choose one's words wisely, to express ideas succinctly, is important for the preacher in the desk, it is doubly important for the writer, whose article is to be reproduced by multiplied thousands of times in a periodical or journal where space is always at a premium, and where reader interest is important.
Writing for our publications is not a hard or impossible task, and all our workers ought to send reports and articles from time to time. But writing demands concentrated thought, a mental view of the reader audience, and the placing of ideas on paper in organized form. There are also certain mechanical requirements which everyone who attempts to write for publication should understand. Many a rejected article, freighted with good ideas, would see its way into print if it were better prepared. Not everyone is a born writer, but nearly everyone can, with training, prepare an acceptable report, narrative, or mission story, or tell an interesting experience.
You ask, how, then, shall I write? First gather your material, assemble your facts. Then break into the interesting part of your story at once. Catch your reader's interest in your opening sentence. Afterward go back and pick up the details. Present sufficient facts, and proofs where necessary, to make your reader intelligent about the subject or experience, but do not pad it with inconsequential minutia. Most articles are improved by cutting. On the other hand, many lack important facts, names, and dates, which the editor may or may not be able to supply.
Use a typewriter and double space all copy, including quotations and poetry. Your copy will be read critically by several pairs of eyes before it is set up, besides being scanned several times in proof.
Begin to write two and one-half inches down from the top of the .first page, and leave one-inch margins on all sides of all pages. In writing for our own periodicals, place your full name and address on the first or last page. The address may be omitted on the manuscript if accompanied by a letter.
The desired length of the article or "story" varies with the publication, but in general write from two to six typewritten pages. This should be on one side only of standard-size white paper, 8% by it inches. Fold and mail in a number io envelope—never roll.
When typing, do not overstrike to correct figures, or letters in names. Give names in full. The editor wants to know whether you mean John M. Jones, or James J. Jones, or Jerry Y. Jones ; hence, J. Jones is not enough. Be sure all spelling is correct.
Carefully check and recheck all quotations from their source. Do not trust to memory. The little word "not" omitted before the word "guilty" could, in some circumstances, invite a lawsuit.
Always enclose quotations in quotation marks, and do not fail to include your "unquotes." A quotation within a quotation takes single quotes ; a quotation within a double quotation takes double quotes.
Never plagiarize. Always give proper credit. For instance : John L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1883), vol. 2, .p. 435. If credit is not for publication, it may be penciled in the margin for purposes of verification. In that case quoted matter should still be enclosed in quotation marks.
Be careful of paragraphing, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Merriam Webster's Unabridged Dictionary is standard in most offices of publication. The University of Chicago Manual of Style is helpful. If you are interested in writing for the newspaper press, Harrington and Frankenberg's Essentials in Journalism, published by Ginn and Company, will give you a big lift.
When you have done your very best, lay your article aside for a day or two. Then read it over and rewrite it. Your first writing puts your thoughts on paper ; rewriting brings better organization and continuity of thought; and the third writing enables you to correct the language and polish the style.
But, after all, the way to learn to write is to write, so now—let's go!