Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Unfamiliar Writing Formats

Question: What do I do about writing in a format with which I am unfamiliar?

Answer: Find a model. Break it into its component parts. Follow the steps in the model, using your own words.

Format for an obituary. Every day I read the obituaries. The question came into my mind, "How will I write mine?" I examined the models on the page of the West Chester, PA, Daily Local News. Here's what I found:

First paragraph: facts of death.
Second paragraph: birth date and names of parents.
Third paragraph: married survivor.
Fourth paragraph: education and employment.
Fifth paragraph: other survivors.
Sixth paragraph: funeral arrangements.
Seventh paragraph: "In lieu of flowers...," donations to....

Of course, there are variations, but this is the basic structure used by most decedents or their survivors for obituaries.

How to write a newspaper column? I enjoy several of the Local's columnists. How do they write their columns?

First paragraph: state the main idea in a single sentence or, at most, in a paragraph leading up to the main idea.
Second, third, fourth, etc. paragraphs: a series of examples or illustrations for the main idea or a full explanation of the incident introduced by the main idea.

Note by RayS: You cannot copy the words of the model. You can find and use the structure of the model or the idea behind the model. Remember: words can be copyrighted. Ideas cannot.

Here is an example of a model résumé suggested by The Business Writer’s Handbook, Fourth Revised Edition. Charles T. Brusaw. Gerald J. Alred. Walter E. Oliu. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1998:
At top, centered: name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

First section--Employment Objective (in one sentence).

Second section(s): Major Accomplishments.

Third section: Employment Experience from latest to earliest. (Show how it is relevant to the position for which you are applying.)

Fourth section: Education. (Show how it applies to the position for which you are applying.)

Fifth section: Special Skills and Activities. (Show how they apply to the position for which you are applying.)

Sixth section: References and portfolio on request.

Rationales for challenged or controversial books (censorship).
When I was writing a chapter about censorship in my book, Teaching English, How To.... I found a wealth of examples of "rationales" for teaching controversial literary works on the Internet at, the Web site of the National Council of Teachers of English. I wanted to share with my readers the general format for such a rationale. After reading a number of rationales developed by members of the NCTE, I learned the following about the structure of a "rationale":

1. Brief summary of the book.
2. Brief description of the controversial parts of the book and possible objections.
3. Appropriate grade and maturity level of the students who will be reading the book.
4. Detailed plot summary.
5. Summary of reviews of the book.
6. Objectives in using the book.
7. Methods for teaching the book.
8. Assignments to be completed by the students.
9. Value of the book to the students.

If you are not familiar with a particular format, find a model. Break it down into its component parts. Follow the model, using your own words. In many cases, after you have followed the model, you will begin to alter it to fit your own circumstances. That is as it should be. The model is only a beginning. Helps you to start.

All the best. RayS.

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