A checklist of key questions to ask as you work on your draft:
| Does the lead grab the reader?
And, just as important: Does the lead flow smoothly into the theme and the rest of the article? Remember that by now you know far more about your topic than the reader. Try to read your opening with fresh eyes: Is it crafted to intrigue someone coming to this subject without your passion and acquired expertise? Then make certain that the attractive road you’ve started the reader down doesn’t lead off a cliff—your lead has to lead somewhere—to a theme that flows seamlessly into the body of the piece.
| Can you summarize the main theme of your article in a title and subtitle?
It’s easy to lose track of your main idea as you spin out a story; on rereading, make certain that your focus has remained as sharp and clear as when you started. If you can state your theme in a title, you know you’ve got a clear focus. (Now is the time to finalize the title for your article anyway, so spend some time on this point.)
| Is your theme clearly encapsulated in your hook? Is your hook “high” enough?
The reason for double-checking your focus right after the lead, after all, is that your hook had better reflect that focus—and soon. As you examine the clarity of your hook, check too to make sure it comes soon (high) enough in the piece. Buried hooks are the bane of editors and readers; on the other hand, it’s almost impossible to plant your hook too high in the story.
| Does each paragraph or section flow easily into the next?
Here’s the time to test all your transitions. Seek out and destroy any interruption in the flow of your article. Rough transitions may be simply a sign of poor linking between paragraphs—fixable by tweaking a few words or switching a phrase—or they may be a red flag signaling something’s out of place.
| Is everything that belongs together placed together?
If you’re covering points A, B, C and D, do you say everything you need to say about C in one spot, or are little bits of C scattered throughout the piece? Some bits of your main points will wind up elsewhere in your article, of course, to do the work of your lead, hook and conclusion. You might need to use an example from C in your lead and another in your hook. But everything else about C belongs in your C section-not scattered here and there in the A, B and D portions. (Here’s where rocky transitions may warn you that something is out of place.)
| Does the rhythm move the reader along?
Look at both your overall, larger rhythms and the individual rhythms of sentences and paragraphs. Watch out for a pace that’s too breathless, or too languid. You’ll need built-in resting places for the reader—but not too many, or too long. Within the larger rhythms of your writing, check for sentences that run on too long, or sentences that seem too staccato. The same goes for paragraphs: After a series of long paragraphs, give the reader a break; too many short paragraphs placed one after another, on the other hand, can be just as wearying. Variety is the key to making your rhythm work.
| Does your ending tie it all together?
Some articles can just stop, but only when all that’s come before leads to a conclusion that’s not only natural and logical but that supports the story’s focus. Other articles demand a more overt ending strategy that hammers home your main thesis. And some can even have surprise endings—but the surprise should never be truly out of the blue, but rather a revelation that makes all the previous material more meaningful and whole.
| Have you written to the right length?
Surgical removal of extra adjectives and adverbs and general tightening of your prose can usually solve a length problem, but sometimes you need to tinker with your structure to reach the right length.
Examine each point you make with these questions in mind:
- Does what comes next logically follow? (If not, you have what is known as a non sequitur—an unexpected, and disconcerting leap from one point to the next.)
- Does the evidence you present actually support your point? Look for logical leaps and factual holes, for what lawyers call “assuming facts not in evidence.”
- Have you left out something that “everybody knows” when “everybody” really doesn’t? Do you introduce new terms and ideas at the proper points, or must the reader skip around to understand what you’re saying?
- Does everything read as if it belongs to the same article? In short, do a unity check. This means being alert to nuances of tone and style as well as spotting content that simply doesn’t belong.
This checklist comes from the course titled Focus on Writing Nonfiction For Children
When you take this course, you’ll learn:
- How to match your topic and audience
- How to develop a research plan, including the use of interviews
- How to hook your audience with a strong lead
- How to write the conclusion
- How to market yourself and your work