This article addresses the process and the unique aspects of writing, specifically, an article for the ADISC Articles System. Having been ADISCís article editor for some time now, the topics discussed here are derived from the common issues I've seen over my tenure.
A good way to look at an article is as an extended forum post, and the guidelines here should be considered an addendum to the information found in the "How to Write a Good Forum Post" article. All of the good practices there apply here; there are simply some additional issues which need be addressed when writing articles.
As an incentive for writing articles, all accepted articles automatically receive at least one point of rep, and often earn more than that, depending on quality as determined by the staff.
The Basics of the Article Format
An article is written on some topic useful to the ADISC community. For a centralized list of potential article topics, see the Article Requests Thread. If you have an idea for an article which is not on that list, this is not a problem, but the idea absolutely should be sent to the articles editor ahead of any writing on the topic, to be sure that the topic is acceptable and not overly redundant with existing articles.
The typical article is 1,200-1,500 words, though this is by no means a hard and fast rule; it's just where most sufficiently-long articles fall. Longer is fine, shorter tends to need a good reason for being shorter. To put this in prospective, 1,200-1,500 words is roughly the length of a 5-page double-spaced 12-point font essay.
Shorter articles are rarely accepted, and when they are, itís generally because they have many pictures illustrating a process, as in the case of many how-to articles. One notable exception to the length rules is that of diaper reviews, as these have their own, specific instructions. There is no length limit, and indeed, we have articles which are several times as long as a typical article.
The Style Guide
A basic style guide to articles is kept here. This is a short list of hard and fast rules specific to the article format to which any proposed article must absolutely adhere.
Organization of an Article
Perhaps the biggest difference between an article and a forum post is in how the article is organized. A forum post is generally written somewhat haphazardly even when itís long, and beyond ensuring that you use reasonable paragraph breaks to avoid the dreaded wall oí text, one doesnít normally give much thought to how itís arranged. An article, on the other hand, by virtue of being long and needing to stand on its own, needs more thought given to its organization.
The ultimate goal here is to make large amounts of text on a page look not daunting, and how best to do this depends on the content of the article. There are several different ways to organize an article:
A Series of Headings and Subheadings
This is the most common way, and itís the way that this particular article is organized. In this method, each major topic is given a heading which is generally larger and/or centered, and minor topics within those headings are generally boldfaced. For longer articles or articles that, by virtue of naturally dividing into several larger overarching chunks, a 3-tiered system with major titles both centered and enlarged can be used. This system is conducive to a longer article or a topic which breaks down into many parts within categories.
Spacing before and after headings is systematic and intended to make the heading stand out from the text. A heading generally is preceded by three empty lines and followed by two empty lines before text begins. Major headings may have more lines afterwards. Minor headings can have one empty line below or can be on the same line as the start of text, and are generally not preceded by more than two lines.
Example of a two-tier system: IRC Basics Guide
Example of a three-tier system: ADISC Primer for New Members
A One-Tier List of Headings
This is similar to the system above, but with only one tier. All headings in such are treated similarly and are of similar importance. This system best suits itself to shorter articles and/or articles which have a number of subtopics along a similar progression.
Often the article need not emphasize the headings to the same degree as when there are multiple tiers of headings. Headings can be simply boldfaced, with two lines preceding and one line after.
Example of a list of headings: Diaper Hygiene
Occasionally, an article will work well when presented as just a series of paragraphs without any headings at all. An article that flows very fluently from paragraph to paragraph throughout but is not overly long may be a good candidate for such a format.
Example of an essay: Accepting Yourself and Your Liking of Diapers
A Step-by-Step How-To with Pictures
Here, the idea is to present a coherent flow explaining a process. An intro and list of materials is given, and then the bulk of the article is the process, as explained with copious pictures. This is generally handed like a two-tier system of headings, with the process having a very long list of subheadings.
Such an article should be heavy on the diagrams or pictures, as itís simply very hard to give a decent explanation of a process with just text alone. Even the best written instructions are improved with illustrations which the reader can cross-reference.
Example of a step-by-step how-to with pictures: Makeshift Diapers: A How-To Guide
Mixed System that Simply Works Well on a Screen
Ultimately, if you can present your point in a way that makes text on a screen look good, it need not fit any specific overarching rules. It just has to look good and not be daunting.
It is rare that an article achieves this without a readily categorized overarching structure, but it can be done, and if so, is entirely acceptable.
Example of a mixed system: To Tell, or Not?
A Closer Look at Style
If a forum post is casual writing, then an article is business-casual writing. Youíre still free to be less than totally serious and to shove off the chains of overbearing formalities, but the ultimate result simply cannot be allowed to look sloppy. Here is an extended list of stylistic rules of thumb to guide you while you write an article:
-There needs to be organization, fluency, and a sense to your writing; itís a problem if anything reads like itís wildly out of place. An article should avoid ever devolving into too conversational a tone, or into a stream of consciousness.
-Stay on topic, donít digress, and avoid excessive wordiness. Itís okay to say things with wit and have voice in your writing, but itís overbearing and annoying to setup convoluted analogies or to spend every other line trying to react emotionally to what you just said. Stick to explaining the topic.
-With rare exceptions, articles should stand alone. They can link to other articles or appropriate websites, recommending them as places to find more information, but the reader shouldn't need to read something else first in order to understand any part of your article. Donít cross-reference points made in other articles.
-While generally speaking, you should be tackling article topics on which youíre knowledgeable enough to write 1,200-1,500 words, youíre definitely allowed to draw on other sources to help you write an article. If you pull significant information or data from another internet source, then what better way is there to give it credit than to link it and give its author page views? If you received significant help from another member in writing an article, thank them in italics at the end of the article.
-Limit how often you emphasize text. There are lots of ways to emphasize text, from boldface to italics to CAPITAL LETTERS Ė and using dashes also qualifies. Of these, use of capital letters is the only one that is overly ANNOYING and should generally be avoided, but you should also be careful not to overuse emphasis generally. The more things which you emphasize, the less meaningful it becomes and the more your text reads like some guy on the internet is just trying to puff out his chest.
-Avoid overly referencing yourself in an article. Itís not inherently wrong to do so, but it tends to come across as awkward and unnecessary. If youíre writing an article, then presumably youíre the expert to make assertive, impersonal statements.
-Single-space between sentences. While double-spacing may be a previous standard from the days before computer word processors, and our older members may be accustomed to it, it is not standard today, and has to be fixed by the editor.
-Due to display issues with forum text using BBcode, please only use generic quotes (",') rather than the fancy sloping quotes inserted by a regular word processor. If you use something like MS Word to write your article, first copy and paste the text into a plain-text processor like Notepad in order to rid it of all of the fancy formatting before actually submitting it.
-Images need to be hosted on ADISC. This is a side effect of having forced SSL browsing available to ADISC members, as SSL in its current implementation will display images hosted external sites as links in order to maintain security. Generally speaking, the simplest way to make this work is to include the images as attachments in drafts, and then use /IMG tags with the address for the image.
-Use Americanized AB/DL terms (e.g. "diaper" over "nappy"). It's fine to use British English otherwise when writing articles, but it's necessary to use Americanized AB/DL terms because they are far more commonly used in search engines to find AB/DL content on the internet. We want as many people as possible to actually read your work.
The Article-Writing Process
So you, good sir or madam, have decided that youíd like to write an article for ADISC Ė now what? Here is how the process generally works, or more specifically, the process where if properly followed will not raise the editorís blood pressure.
1. Writer Approaches the Editor to Show Interest
If thereís a either a topic in the Article Requests Thread which youíd like to take on or you have an idea for an article not listed, you should first approach the editor(s) either by posting interest in the Article Requests Thread or via PM before actually writing anything. If there are multiple editors on staff, always include all editors on all article-related PMs.
2. Editor Replies to the Writer with a List of Details and a Request for a Finish Date
The editor will reply via PM. If there are issues with you taking on the article topic, the editor will raise those issues here. Otherwise, the editor will reply with a list of notes both general to articles and specific to his vision for your article topic, that heís noted you down as writing the article in the Article Requests Thread, and requesting that you reply with an expected finish date.
3. Writer Replies with an Expected Finish Date
You donít need to finish the article quickly, but you do need to set some kind of reasonable finish date. Typically, this tends to be something from about a week to about a month. Try to give a realistic, conservative estimate which you can actually meet.
4. Writer Writes a Draft
Hereís the tricky part: you have to actually write the article.
You will make your editor very happy if you actually finish at or before the date that you say you will. Your editor does, however, realize that this is volunteer work, that this is a significant amount of work which generally takes people several grueling hours to complete, and that you have a life, and will thus understand should you decide that you need more time. If this is the case, you can make your editor very happy by sending him a PM to say that you need more time and including anything youíve written thus far.
If you donít respond by your expected finish date, then the editor will start politely asking you for updates via PM or IRC PM if youíre active there. Your editor is a reasonable person who is understanding of your problems, and would really prefer that you explain your situation rather than hear nothing back. Please, for your editorís sanity, respond to his PMs asking for updates rather than just ignore them.
If at any point in writing your article you have questions or need help with something, then by all means send a PM to your editor, and he will be happy to help.
5. Writer Submits a Draft
The best way to submit an article is in a new Requests thread titled "Article Submission". This allows for both a clear running dialogue to trade edits as well as provides a post to which to assign earned rep.
6. Editor Looks Over Draft to Determine if Needs Further Revision by the Writer
The editor will do an initial read over the submission in order to determine whether it will need significant further work before itís ready for a final edit.
Sometimes, the editor will request something minor, such as fixing links or properly attaching pictures to the article. In these cases, you need only to fix this minor issue, and should preferably do so as quick as possible. The editor may even go ahead to the next step and post a near-final edit which will be final contingent on including whatever fix has been requested.
Other times, the editor will decide that the submission needs significant further revision before itís ready for his final edit. Common reasons include:
- The draft is too short.
- The draft fails to cover key topics in significant enough detail.
- The draft has an unreasonable number of syntactical errors (grammar and spelling) to the point that it would require an undue amount of time to edit.
- The draft has major fluency and/or tone problems that need to be solved.
In a case where the draft needs major revisions, the editor will send it back with a list of specific issues. It would be prudent to give the editor an expected timeline for when a new draft can be expected, and if he PMs you asking for updates, to respond to those PMs.
7. Editor Decides that the Draft is "Workable", and Does a Final Edit
If a draft is ready, the editor will make a final edit, and post it in reply to the relevant requests thread.
This is not necessarily a quick process, as the editor is going to do a very detailed edit, not only fixing syntax but doing some combination of more involved edits which may include rewording and reordering text, adding or subtracting content, and playing around significantly with formatting to figure out what seems to work best. Such can be a large time commitment, and must be worked into the schedule of the volunteer editor.
8. Editor Approves the Article, and Submits it for Final Approval and Publishing
Once a final edit has been posted and any issues have been resolved, the editor will PM Moo and/or Fruitkitty to give the article a final stamp of approval. This process is dependent on the busy schedules of Moo and/or Fruitkitty, and may not be immediate.
Assuming that Moo and/or Fruitkitty approves and publishes the article, it will be published and rep will be assigned. The article may be edited at a later date as necessary by the staff, but otherwise, the process is complete.
The Purpose of Articles
A common complaint about ADISC and the AB/DL online community at large is that the same questions always come up, over and over again. Search the forum for any major AB/DL topic, and youíll get redundant threads full of the same disorganized answers, all responding to the topic from scratch.
By creating a detailed resource of answers to the common questions, we improve the basal level of discussion. More people come to these discussions with an improved understanding of the answers, and when someone asks a question about which we have an article, we have a very good answer on hand to give that person.
Finally, by having people who know a topic really well write detailed articles, weíre able to create a lasting resource of some of the best knowledge ADISC has to offer, answering questions in detail which often exceeds that of forum threads. A good article is a lasting contribution to the AB/DL community which outlives the churn of forum threads.
Editors are People Too
In my personal experience as ADISCís editor, the problems Iíve had are not what I expected when I began. Sometimes people fail to produce anything and become unresponsive, but thatís actually rather uncommon; much more often a writer will get 80%+ of the way to completion, and then never finish. People seem to have an incredible tendency to get most of the way there, then give up on the home stretch.
Worse, almost never has someone been willing to up and tell me that theyíve decided to throw in the towel. Instead, they tend to choose to ignore repeated PMs and all attempts at contact. This is extremely frustrating.
I close this article with a simple appeal: please communicate with your editor. Your editor is understanding of your busy life, and can accept that you are having difficulties meeting your timeline or that you were overambitious. Please, though, donít just leave your editor hanging Ė PM him if youíre in a bind or having difficulty, and definitely donít ignore his repeated requests for updates.
We editors are people too; please have mercy on us.