Editor's Note: This installment of the Seeking Alpha Author Experience was originally written by Rocco Pendola on March 8, 2016. Rocco deserves enormous credit for conceiving and refining the Author Experience, which has become a great resource for SA editors and writers alike.
We will spend considerable time dealing with the structure of articles, particularly grammar, punctuation and presentation consistency. These efforts will coalesce into The Seeking Alpha Author Bible, a handbook you can consult as a guide to the syntax of article writing, to be released later this year.
In hockey (my favorite sport), a coach often has to sell his system to his players, particularly offensive-minded superstars, who might not like playing defense so much. But quite frequently, when a coach gets his team to do “the little things,” amazing offensive results ensue (see Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals this season).
Along those lines, I realize asking you to go All-In on issues such as grammar and punctuation might be a tough sell. However, after you implement pain-free tweaks and techniques (the little things), readers have an easier time finding and using your opinions and analytic takeaways (Seeking Alpha’s offensive firepower!). Many writers overlook structure and presentation, yet it’s one thing that can take them from one level to the next, quite often from good to great.
So here are a few tweaks and techniques to illustrate this, preview what’s to come over the long term and center around the notion of Economizing Words.
A professor in grad school gave me the best writing advice I have ever received. She told me to “economize words.” She suggested that every time I “finished” a draft of any writing, I proofread it multiple times, figure out what didn’t need to be there and eliminate those sections. She was hyper-focused on unneeded words.
For our purposes, that’s a good place to start. With unneeded words.
Here’s the beauty of scouring your work for and removing unneeded words - once you know what to look for, it’s a relatively simple exercise to execute. And until you start doing it and you read your work minus dozens, if not hundreds of unneeded words, you don’t realize the incredible impact something so small has on readability (best characterized as flow). After you master the art of being less wordy, it’s a natural progression to step up to eliminating entire sections of unnecessary prose. That’s (remember that word) when you hit the next level as a writer, a level very few people attain.
Every one of you can use what follows in this and future installments to move up several levels from wherever you are as a writer, otherwise we wouldn’t be putting the time and resources into something as extensive - and long term - as The Seeking Alpha Author Experience.
Deep In The Weeds, On The Ground
Consider the following variation of a sentence we could reasonably expect to see in an otherwise solid Seeking Alpha article:
The third advantage that Micron has over other tech companies is the solid working relationships that they've built with all their partners and vendors.
Now read it out loud - first with the two uses of “that,” then without.
The meaning doesn’t change and the flow of the sentence improves without unneeded use of that, not to mention the deletion of an unnecessary all:
The third advantage Micron has over other tech companies is the solid working relationships they've built with their partners and vendors.
There will be times when you need to use the most overused word in the English language, but more often than not you can eliminate that. Imagine doing what we did in the example sentence repeatedly - maybe with every sentence - in an article. It completely changes the tone and “feel” of the read. As with the following instances of economizing words, you have to read out loud or under your breath (my preferred method) to determine when and where you can make a cut.
In order to, in an effort to and variations thereof
I am going to buy puts in order to short Chipotle stock.
Twitter fired three executives in an effort to streamline its executive reporting structure.
How about …
I am going to buy puts to short Chipotle stock.
Twitter fired three executives to streamline its executive reporting structure.
Am going to, would like to and variations thereof
Or how about this even better tweak to the Chipotle sentence …
I will buy puts to short Chipotle stock.
Because word combos such as “am going to” and “would like to” are often unnecessary.
In this article, I would like to analyze Tesla’s free cash flow to detail why I think you should short the stock.
How about something subtly more authoritative (I realize that “subtly more authoritative” might be grammatically incorrect or somehow inconsistent, but it felt right!) …
In this article, I analyze Tesla’s free cash flow to detail why you should short the stock.
I also deleted “I think” from that sentence. Of course, I think has a place in O&A, but excessive use of I think is not necessary. We’re writing opinion pieces, after all, so by and large, it’s implied that bursts of opinion represent what you think.
So this is a short list. Even if we stopped there, the impact of implementing those tweaks to your writing would be profound. But we’re not going to stop there. In future installments of The Seeking Alpha Author Experience we up the ante on all things presentation so that, together, we can up our narrative games.
Up next on Wednesday, March 9 in installment #7: Article Breakdown: One Size Does Not Fit All