Writing guides

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    Orion

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    Writing guides

    “Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.”
    –Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

     

    “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
    ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

     

    A written guide is a work that helps others to reproduce a method or achieve a result previously obtained by the author.

    There is an incredible joy to reading a well written guide, then reproducing the methodology and achieving the desired outcome. There is also an incredible joy to writing a well written guide, then receiving feedback it assisted others to do what you did. The converse is also true, and it can be frustrating when one toils hard creating a guide and it is poorly received or others cannot understand it.

    What makes a well written guide? With some brainstorming I came up with the following:

    • Well researched
    • Concise and relevant (ie. not too wordy)
    • Full of content
    • Easy to understand
    • Well structured and easy to follow
    • Useful for as broad an audience as possible (ie beginners and experts, in different environments)
    • Interesting and engaging
    • Unbiased

    There are in fact, a series of steps I take when writing a guide.

    Understanding why the topic is important

    “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”
    –Herman Melville

    I find it very helpful to ensure a deep understanding why a topic is important at the beginning of any work. There can be a number of reasons:

    • Something that is common and important, such as such as attack rolls for warriors or spawn boxes for module builders.
    • An underdeveloped or even new concept that has never been explored before – this makes the reader think “Could this be fun or useful?”
    • A rare but catastrophic event that needs to be prevented, such as failing a fortitude save against the Cleric’s Implosion instant death spell, or backing up module data in case of hard disk failure to prevent catastrophic loss of hours of labor writing a module.
    • Something that is fun, our lives can have tough moments, and lightening life’s burdens can be of great help

    Once one understands the importance of a topic, one can help the reader understand why it is important, but also help the writer understand the investment of time in creating the guide is worthwhile.

    Researching the topic thoroughly

    Researching a topic thoroughly when preparing a guide is very valuable as it allows for insights beyond the author’s experience, enhancing its quality and content. Some specific questions are quite helpful to consider:

    • Has the topic been written about before? How is your guide going to be different to what was previously written? Is there any ground that was covered that you might have missed, and is there any information you can provide that is new or updated compared to what was written previously?
    • What sources of information would you seek, and how many will you look up?

    Possible ways to find information include:

    Structure

    Structure is a process of organizing one’s thoughts in a sensible way.

    For a guide I might structure the piece in a certain way (with each dot point being a paragraph):

    • Why the topic is important
    • Question or Viewpoint 1
    • Question or Viewpoint 2
    • etc…
    • Summary or Concluding statement
    • Acknowledgement(s)

    With the paragraphs themselves, I find it is easier to follow if there is a single point or concept covered with each paragraph. Each concept is usually in the form of a question or a particular viewpoint.

    • Discussing a question as to why it is important, what the possible solutions are to that question and what might be the ideal solution for certain individuals or certain environments.
    • Or if it is a viewpoint, discussing the evidence supporting that view point and the evidence against that view point, then trying to conclude with a judgement having considered both sides when summarizing it all together at the end.

    I then find it helpful to put each paragraph in a logical sequence that makes sense to the reader.

    Others may have different ways to structure paragraphs, but I find this approach allows me to focus on the important topic and attempt to examine the topic in a comprehensive and balanced way to minimize bias.

    Sailing away to less troubled waters… I hope… (screenshot from gameplay from NWN:EE running the WoG PW)

    Making it interesting

    I find it valuable to communicate via a number of different ways to try to keep the readers interest. This includes:

    • Standard paragraphs
    • Bullet points
    • Quotations from others
    • Pictures, Diagrams and Tables
    • Video links

    Keeping the communication varied with different methods helps keep the reader interested and engaged, as well as one can. If the substance of the text is unimportant to the reader however, it doesn’t matter how stylish one makes the guide, getting the substance right is key. One can in fact write excellent guides without using all of these additional tools at ones disposal, but I believe guides are enhanced if one communicates in various ways.

    Synonyms

    Synonyms can be very helpful to ensure the meaning you wish to convey is communicated. It helps to consider nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs of the text and consider synonyms for each word because each of these parts can have a number of different similar words which conveys slightly different meanings.

    For example, if one google searches the word “different” and “synonym”, one obtains a list of synonyms for the word “different”.  These include “contrasting”, “divergent”, “unusual”, “original”, “extraordinary”, “distinct”, each word conveys slightly different meanings and a different message to the reader. This is one tool to assist conveying the message the writer wishes to convey as accurately as possible.

    Reviewing and editing

    “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
    –Thomas Jefferson

    It is always valuable to review and edit what one has written. With a pair of fresh eyes, many possible revisions can be made to improve the content. An example might be fixing spelling or grammatical errors, removing unnecessary words or phrases, or inserting a diagram which explains a concept more easily, or expanding on a concept further which hasn’t be described well enough.

    One trick is to copy and paste what one has written into a word processor before (or even after) posting. Then the writer can run spell checks and grammar checks to ensure as much of the content is as ‘correct’ as possible.

    Often taking a break and reviewing the work again will help significantly. The best part is when a reader lets you know of something you should fix – you know they have read it, and they care enough about what you have done to let you know how you can improve!

    Making the pen mighty

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

    What might leave a lasting and powerful impact on readers varies, but if one can communicate the power of emotion in one’s writing (for example, the breathtaking power but vulnerabilities of a high level Sorcerer or Dragon Shape Druid build) it sticks in the reader’s mind far more strongly than the words themselves.

    In the end that is one of the best legacies one as a writer can achieve – leaving a positive impact on others with the work that one has created, potentially for many, many readers, for a long time to come. It is why the saying “The pen is mightier than the sword” exists, and much of history we know about essentially from previous writings, as word of mouth tends to fade quickly, memories become less over time, but writing can last, and potentially for centuries.

    Summary

    In summary I hope this helps others understand:

    • why writing guides is important and very valuable to the community
    • the joy of writing well written guides
    • some tips on how to write guides well
    • the process I use when writing guides

    Writing guides can assist many others, and a well written guide can leave a legacy and impression for a long time.

    Comments

    Comments are very welcome. There is only so much an individual can learn and know, and sharing insights helps not only the author but also other readers learn tips and tricks to help with their own work in writing guides. So any commentary could be of great benefit for myself or others.

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