A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY LESSON.
People (with more expertise than myself) have learned that writing came about due to economic necessity. Back in the day, Mesopotamians would track how many of each item they owned, and instead of drawing it hundreds of times, they would just draw one item next to a system of markings- which makes sense as I wouldn’t want to draw wheat hundreds of times either.
We are gradually moving towards images again with the help of emoji, a concept so valuable they spent $50 million on a movie about it. Personally, I’d give it another thousand years before the written word becomes obsolete but, seeing as we’ll live underwater, who knows.
WHY HAVING THE BEST WORDS MATTER.
When you apply for internships and graduate jobs, you will submit a CV and a cover letter. On both, you must use words. If you are subpar at formulating concise sentences, you will rapidly discover that, despite your best efforts, your ability to consolidate your CV to solely two pages shall be more difficult than reading this sentence.
Making matters worse, when in the big wide world, you’re going to have to talk to people. Despite the fact I can order a Pumpkin Spice latte from my phone and never need acknowledge my Barista, I can’t press a button to write for me (yet).
Regardless of your chosen career, you’ll need to properly construct a logical argument and convey it in writing every single day. You’ll be emailing clients and colleagues and bosses and every human in between for the remainder of your life. Inevitably, there’ll be disagreements. Being clear and concise can help prevent another endless email chain, sparked by someone not clearly explaining their point of view to others from four entirely different countries.
WHERE WRITING ARTICLES COMES
To get better at writing professionally, you need to practice. Once you have some experience under your belt, you’ll be less terrified when filling out job applications in the coming months. It’s one thing to proclaim to possess “excellent verbal and written communication” on your CV and cover letter; it is another thing to demonstrate that ability.
Which is better?
“From my experience in group work, I have excellent verbal and written communication.”
Or, “From writing several articles for the Students’ Actuarial Society’s newsletter, I have recognised the importance of maintaining excellent written and verbal communication in all aspects of my professional career.”
You don’t need to write a hundred articles; but writing one is better than naught.
WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT.
You have two options: write about something you are passionate about, or write about something you want to know more about. Just write about whatever you fancy!
For example, let’s hypothetically say that your friend does biomedicine and mentions something… different. You go and have a Google (other search engines are available) and try to learn more. This topic, whatever it is, is what you write your article on!
HOW TO WRITE AN ARTICLE.
I used this exact process when writing this article.
Fail to plan? Plan to fail! Have a topic. You can’t make a pretty vase if you don’t plan what it will look like.
Will it have curves? Will you engrave or paint it? The same goes for an article. What are you going to write about? Why do you care? Why should anyone care? Are there key points you want to get across?
When I say write, I mean write everything. It doesn’t matter how long it is, just get all the words out. At this stage, it doesn’t matter how bad it is, it’s all about getting all your ideas down on paper.
If you’re suddenly finding yourself having writer’s block, walk away for a day or three. Come back, take a read and start editing — it’ll spark something.
Your first draft is your worst draft, and it is going to be far from perfect. Now, take an axe and begin chopping away, removing everything that isn’t necessary and watch the word count plummet. As you edit, frequently go back to your plan and ask yourself: does your article still make sense and get across the key points?
I highly recommend that you should follow the rules used daily by The Economist:
- Avoid using metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Think of fresh ones wherever you can.
- Prefer short words to long ones.
- Try cutting a lot of your word count, especially those words that add little extra meaning.
- Don’t overuse the passive voice. And whether passive or active, be clear who did what to whom.
- Prefer everyday English to scientific language or jargon.
- Good writing is no place for the tyrant. Never say “never” and always avoid “always”, or at the least handle them with care. Overusing such words is an invitation for critics to hold you to your own impossible standard.
Wait a day or two to clear your head, then give it another read from top to bottom. Try getting some feedback and take on board honest criticism; however, don’t be afraid to dispute someone’s opinions. Just remember, no article is worth falling out with your friends.
Editors and readers will want to know where you got your information from and whether it’s credible, so be sure to include any references.
Finally, all that’s left is to send it off to the Current Affairs Director!
Write something for the newsletter. It doesn’t matter if 10 other people submit something, the process alone will impact how you think and write professionally.
Importantly, remember to enjoy the journey.