Saturday, October 9, 2010

Writing Abstracts for Pay

Yes, people, do get paid to write abstracts. Others write summaries as part of their work. Examples may include summaries of grant/contract proposals, “Executive Summaries” of everything from proposals to resum├ęs and short descriptions of accomplishments.

What is the difference between an abstract and a summary? Actually, there is a difference. An abstract is a description of the work, designed to stand alone. The summary is used at the end of the work to underline the important points in the work. Busy executives often read only the executive summary at the beginning of a paper, assuming they have enough detail. Whether you’re writing an abstract or a summary, you are attempting to synthesize a body of information into a shortened form to be read quickly and easily by interested individuals.

Abstracts can be classified into two common forms: indicative and informative. The typical distinction between descriptive and informative is that the descriptive abstract is like a table of contents whereas the informative abstract lays out the content of the document. The indicative abstract tells about the background of the work, who is responsible for the work, how and why the work was conceived and how the study was undertaken. This type of abstract is called indicative because it indicates what the work is but does not provide details about the work.

An informative abstract provides details about the substance of a piece of writing because readers will sometimes rely on the abstract alone for information. Informative abstracts typically follow this format:

1. Identifying information (bibliographic citation or other identification of the document),

2. Concise restatement of the main point, including the initial problem or other background,

3. Methodology (for experimental work) and key findings, and

4. Major conclusions.

Edward T. Cremmins in his book, “The Art of Abstracting,” describes a three-stage analytical reading method that is necessary to prepare informative and indicative abstracts. Cremmins has over 30 years experience in research and testing, refining, using, and teaching the concepts of abstracting. According to Cremmins, preparation of abstracts is a three stage process.

When reading documents for abstracting, first you explore the material to identify candidate information for retrieval (Stage 1). Next, respond to the selected information and synthesize (Stage 2) the most relevant information into a draft abstract. Finally, you should review the material and draft again to add value (Stage 3) to the abstract.

In Stage 1, you are exploring the material to find tidbits of information that standout as vital to anyone seeking information on this topic. You will scan the text to identify passages containing information with potential for inclusion in the abstract. Mark those parts in the margin of the text that contain information on purpose, methods, findings or conclusions/recommendations.

That stage of abstracting completed, you will move on to organizing or responding to and synthesizing the material. Here your cognitive skills are challenged to transform extracted material identified in Stage 1 to a product of high craftsmanship. To meet this challenge you may have to consult dictionaries, handbooks or other material so as to be confident with the intricacies of the subject matter being abstracted. If you are confident in your knowledge of the subject, continue to develop the abstract. Most abstracts have a small word count requirement, so being concise or “writing tight” is a highly valued skill.

The final stage, adding value to the abstract, is where your particular knowledge, ability and writing style can shine. Stage 3 is, essentially, the critical reading stage. The goal of this final reading stage of the completed version of the draft abstract is to ensure that it contains adequate value and meaning, and, if not, to add more of these qualities to it. Additionally, this reading is beneficial in identifying questions or problems of style that either may be resolved independently by the abstractor or may be brought to the attention of an editor or reviewer.

When writing an abstract, then:

1. Scan the document purposefully for key facts,

2. Tell what was found,

3. Tell why the work was done,

4. Tell how the work was done,

5. Place findings early in the abstract,

6. Place general statements last,

7. Differentiate experiment from hypothesis,

8. Be informative but brief,

9. Be exact, concise and unambiguous,

10. Use short, complete sentences.



Advice on how to get started writing abstracts:

1. List It on Your Website. The most obvious thing you can do is list it as a service offering on your website and/or blog. When you do, list a brief explanation of what it is and how it can benefit the client.

2. Pitch Clients. Many times, clients won’t even realize the value that abstracts can bring them. So, devise a special query seeking this kind of work.

3. Or start an abstracting service, which requires very little financial investment. The materials you will need are probably things you already have at home. You`ll need a reliable computer with a multi function printer, and as with any business, you should have both a land line and cell phone so that your customers can always reach you. An abstracting service business offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of hours, as long as you meet your deadlines.

4. The income potential for abstracting services is promising. You can expect to be paid between $5 and $15 per article. The speed of your reading and writing ability will have a huge effect on your earning potential. If you can complete only one article per hour, you`ll be earning $6 to $20 per hour, however if you can complete as many as 3 articles in an hour, you could easily find yourself bringing in as much as $45 dollars per hour (from http://www.funcareers.com/).

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited  October 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Writing for Children’s Magazines

Children’s magazines? You may not have considered writing for the children’s magazine market, but perhaps you should. Children’s magazines are growing in number, especially with the addition of the e-zine, which seems to be particularly attractive to our “tech-savvy” young ones. A comprehensive list of over 600 children’s magazines is available from The Writer’s Institute Publications, Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers 2010.

As with adult magazines, children’s magazines carry almost all types of articles from fiction to nonfiction, how-to, word puzzles and other learning activities. Articles are sought on a variety of topics for ages 3-12. Article lengths for the 3-6 year olds are usually no more than 400 words, 7-9 from 400-800 words, and 10-12 from 500-1200 words. These word counts are strictly enforced, but vary considerably from one magazine to another.

Currently, many magazine editors are saying they’d like to see more nonfiction for ages 3 to 6 and 7 to 9, as well as craft projects and word puzzles. How-to and How-Things-Work articles are especially sought for the 7-12 group. Teaching children the way to do or understand something you know well is an excellent way to break into a magazine market. Not only are how-to and how-things-work articles fairly easy to put together, your personal enthusiasm will fuel reader interest.

It is important to remember, though, readers know your topic less well than you do. Especially if you’ve been writing for adults and this is your first foray into writing for children, it is easy to assume your readers know the basics. Young readers may not. They may not know relevant terms. They may find a project doesn’t work because you left out a fundamental step, one that is simple and obvious to you but not to them. Never rely on editors to uncover errors or gaps in an article or project. If they can’t visualize how a project will work or your point in an article, your chances for a sale will drop to nil.

Although many writers want to create enduring children's fiction, they're much more likely to sell a non-fiction piece. Juvenile magazines do publish a fair amount of short stories, but they're generally outnumbered by articles and activities. And, an increasing number of magazines focus on non-fiction topics, such as science, nature and technology. Interestingly, most editors want non-fiction that reads like well-written short stories. The best juvenile magazines run articles that paint vivid pictures of historical events, or that use colorful, down-to-earth imagery to explain a scientific phenomenon. Children want to “hear” the crash as Thomas Edison's prototype light bulb shatters on the floor.

To begin, you need to put aside any preconceived notions about childhood. The world has changed since your own formative years. Children are a lot more sophisticated these days, and they want articles and stories that are relevant to their world. Pastimes and hobbies may be a lot different than you remember, too. Small-town kids may still visit the old swimming hole in the summer, but suburban and urban youngsters are more likely to play youth soccer or take to the streets with their skateboards. You need to familiarize yourself with what kids are doing if you want to write for them. Borrow a friend's children, teach a Sunday-school class, coach a sports team or eavesdrop in the children’s section of the local bookstore – anything to get an idea of what kids are like.

Keep in mind before you sit down to write, how computer-literate and visually perceptive today's children are. Having been raised on video games and MTV, modern kids aren't going to sit still for a story that doesn't grab them right away. (Truth be told, they never did!)

Editors are looking for the same things you look for in adult writing: a solid plot, interesting characters, humor, sharp detail, good research. One of the most common mistakes, editors say, is writing "down" to children – being too sweet, too jaunty or too didactic. Children don't want to be patronized or instructed. They're very sensitive, as most people are, to being talked down to. Also, talking animals or other anthropomorphic devices are a “no-no.”

Nature is a perennial favorite, but most magazines already have backlogs of articles about “Really Interesting Animals” or “Fascinating Natural Phenomena.” It's not that these ideas can't make good reading, it's that they need a new approach. The worst crime of all is to try to wedge in some kind of moral. If there's a lesson to be learned, fine, but you have to show it, not tell it.

Here, then, are eight easy steps to writing articles for children:

1. Choose a topic. It should be something that many children will be interested in. But it should also be something you know well or are interested in learning more about.

2. Narrow your topic. Concentrate on just one aspect of it.

3. Research your article. Use both online resources and books and articles.

4. Organize your research. Jot down the main points you want to make, then go through your notes and plug them into your outline.

5. Write the article. Decide what age you are writing for, and then try to keep your writing on that level. The Children’s Writer’s Word Book is a valuable resource for this step. MSWord is also equipped with the Fleisch-Kincaid reading scale. You can access this through the Spell-check feature.

6. Revise and edit your article. To make sure it flows smoothly, read it aloud to yourself or to willing family members.

7. Research the markets. Get a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market or research children's magazine publishers online.

8. Submit your article. Then, get busy writing another one.

That’s all there is to it. It’s really not different from writing articles for adult magazines. The basic procedure is the same. The only things that need additional consideration are reading level and magazine titles specific to children.

Published in Outdoors Unlimited, June 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Love’em or Hate’em, Your Writing Can Benefit from a Critique Group

Does criticism by other writers really help? The short answer is yes, it can. How can criticism by other writers, especially those that don’t write the same kind of articles I do, help me? Read on…

First of all, you won’t just be criticized; you’ll get some praise too. While feedback from other writers as focused as you can be frustrating and exhilarating, there’s a flip side. You will have to return the favor. How? Read on…

But, aren’t critique groups just for fiction writers or MFA students? No, they are an important part of any writer’s life, no matter the genre. Editors and publishers state that a major reason for rejecting submissions is poor organization and writing skills. This problem can best be overcome by the writer receiving feedback from other experienced writers. “Fresh eyes” can spot problems that you might overlook in your attention to subject matter detail. You, in turn, can look at other writers’ work with fresh eyes and spot deficiencies or find explanations of details expressed that are entirely new and meaningful to you. There is give and take in a critique group.

While practice is the best way to improve your writing skills, you won't know whether you're on the right track—what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong—unless you get feedback. You have to show your story to others.

At first, while you're still feeling your way, you'll probably show your story to friends and family. but friends and family don't know how a story is created, only whether they like it or not. "I like it" is not a constructive comment, no matter how well-intentioned the reader. People who know nothing about writing can do little to help you improve your writing. So where can you get constructive feedback? From other writers. And you connect with these other writers through writers' groups and critique groups.

Critique groups can benefit you in more ways than the obvious one of having good and bad points pointed out in your own stories. As the strengths and weaknesses in others' work are called to your attention and examined in critiques by experienced members, you'll learn about techniques you can apply to your own writing, and you'll learn more about the elements that go into good writing. Critiquing others' work can help you improve your own writing. It's often easier to see mistakes in others' work than it is to see what's wrong in your own -- you're too close to your own work to see its flaws. As you learn to recognize weaknesses in others' work, you'll be able to apply your new analytical skills to distance yourself from your own writing, allowing you to recognize and avoid those same weaknesses.

How to Critique:

1. Don't think you have to cover every point in a story. Look for ones that stand out for you and comment on them.

2. Do try and give feedback on what could be changed to improve the piece.

3. Don't say: "you should have written it like this:" We all have our own styles and we should respect that. That isn't to say you can't offer examples of how you would have written it, but that is all they should be, examples.

4. Do say what you felt about the piece as a reader. As a writer we need to know what readers feel about our work. So say whether it moved you, confused you or made you laugh.

5. Never criticize the author, only give criticism of the work.

How to Receive a Critique:

It is equally important to know how to react to a critique of your work. It is daunting submitting your work to others, but if we are to be published writers, then this is something we must do.

• Do take time to thank the person who has done the critique. Reading and providing feedback on works can take a long time. It is only polite to acknowledge this and thank the person for taking the time to do this for you.

• Do think carefully about the comments that have been made.

• Don't immediately fire back defensive messages. You might feel that the reviewer has got it all wrong, but wait before you act. Take time to re-read your work and consider the comments made about it. It is hard to see your work being criticized, but if you want to grow as a writer, you need to learn to take criticism and learn from it where you can.

• Do post clarifications if you think they are necessary and valid, for instance "Y's dialogue is deliberately misspelled because that is an indication of how they pronounce the words." Or "I was intending to hide the sex of the speaker by means of..."

• Do take the time to critique others' work too.

Critiquing isn't hard. It isn't an obscure science. It does, however, take time and practice. Remember the critique is only a suggestion. You, the writer, have the final say as to how the work is presented for publication.


Published in Outdoors Unlimited, April, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Goldenrod Writing Workshop

Goldenrod Writing Workshop
Want to be an Outdoor Writer? Now you can!

Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) will host its first Goldenrod Writing Workshop at the University of Montana in Missoula August 1-7, 2010. Open to both novice communicators and published professionals, the week-long workshop is designed to improve skills in outdoor, nature and environmental writing.
The workshop is in a casual setting with hands-on learning from peer groups and veteran instructors.The curriculum includes assignments, discussions, readings and shared critiques along with time for writing and socializing with others who share a passion for outdoor writing. Enrollment is limited to 30 students, and it’s on a first come, first served basis. The $995 fee includes tuition and room and board at The University of Montana campus residence. The deadline for applications is May 1, and a $250 non-refundable deposit is due the same time.
Four instructors teach the workshop. They include Lisa Densmore from New Hampshire, a book author, photographer, TV producer and Emmy-award winner; freelance writer Holly Endersby from Idaho, whose magazine articles have appeared in many markets; book author and humor writer Alan Liere from Spokane, Washington; and investigative reporter Ted Gup, who also heads the journalism department at Boston’s Emerson College and whose book about the CIA was a NY Times Bestseller.
Visiting faculty include best-selling author Patrick McManus from Spokane and Bill Schneider, founder of Falcon Press, from Helena, Montana.
For complete details, go to www.owaa.org, click on “Goldenrod Writing Workshop.” The direct link: http://owaa.org/goldenrod-writing-workshop.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Writing Book Reviews

I’ve written book reviews and used book reviews in my profession as a Public Services Librarian for over 25 years. Many of us use book reviews when deciding to purchase a book for ourselves or someone else. There are various publications that include book reviews, including local newspapers, magazines, and dedicated publications, such as Library Journal and the Kirkus Review. We must recognize the difference between reviews and flyers or catalogs. Flyers and catalogs sent by publishers and distribution houses, such as Book-of-the-Month Club, are not reviews. They are “informational” snippets designed to sell you the book. They won’t tell you if the plot doesn’t move or the characters are flat.

Many newspapers and other review media buy book reviews. Have you ever thought of writing book reviews for fun and “profit?” Fun is probable, “profit” is relative. But those who buy reviews often pay per word, just as most columns. In fact you could be the sole contributor to a column for book reviews. The outlet, whether newspaper or magazine, will decide the broad subject area of the books to be reviewed. You may get to choose the books or the editor may choose which books will be covered. If you are proposing a book review column, you may wish to begin by proposing a column regarding books about the outdoors. Then, if the outlet says their readers are most interested in hunting and fishing, you can suggest several titles of new books that would fit this column. Be prepared to provide details of your background in education and experience or provide writing samples, showing you are knowledgeable about this field.

When you’ve secured a column in the local Sunday newspaper to review the newest books on hunting and fishing you need to be able to find the books to review. You might begin your search in bookstores to find publishers’ names. Don’t wait for books to arrive in the bookstore before deciding which books to review, however. Most commonly you’ll review the book based on the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC). ARCs are proof copies or pre-publication copies produced by the publisher as a last check before final printing. These can only be obtained from the publisher and may not be sold or distributed by the recipient. To obtain these copies, write directly to the publisher. Choose publishers based on books that you know or have seen in the bookstore. Write to them describing your column, how often your column will be published, the circulation of the paper or magazine and a little of your background. Most publishers will be more than willing to supply you with ARCs and they will be free of charge. Most likely, they will add your name to their mailing list for future books in the same field. Yes, you saw this coming, you’ll have the column and free books to add to your collection as well!

Now, what exactly is a book review and how is it constructed? Book reviews are just that; they tell the reader a little about the author, what the book is about, how useful it will be and who will find it interesting. Book reviews are often short, sometimes 200-300 words, but reviews in your column, depending on how many books will be covered in each column and the limits imposed by the editor, could be as long as 500-600 words.

A book review should focus on the book's purpose, content, and authority. A critical book review is not a book report or a summary. It is a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. It should include a statement of what the author has tried to do, evaluate how well, in your opinion, the author has succeeded, and present evidence to support this evaluation. There is no right way to write a book review. Book reviews are highly personal and reflect the opinions of the reviewer.

My formula for a book review is:
1. List the specifics of the publication, including title, author, publisher, place of publication, price, and other details as required by your publication.
2. Identify the author of the book and his/her accomplishments in two or three sentences.
3. Discuss the contents of the book while analyzing its strengths and weaknesses.
4. Provide an overall evaluation and recommendation as to its use and users.

Begin by reading some good book reviews if you haven’t been paying attention to them before now. The New York Times Book Review section is considered the “gold standard.” Many magazines contain a book review or two when the editors become aware of a title that fits the focus of the magazine. Newspapers are harder to pinpoint. Some, especially, smaller town, local papers carry only reviews of books by local authors. Some carry none at all. Larger city papers usually have a book review section in the Sunday paper. Many of those reviews are syndicated but the paper may take some local reviews as well.

Book reviewing sounds easy and the writing seems to be not too burdensome. However, to do a good job, you must read the entire book, which can be time consuming. You may need to check some of the facts with a specialist, much as you’d verify facts in any other piece of writing. The more reading you have done in the field for which you plan to review, the better equipped you’ll be to provide meaningful reviews.

Good luck and most of all, have fun!

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited, January, 2010