www.whyville.net Oct 31, 2003 Weekly Issue

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How Do You Write for the Times?

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Okay, in reply to hottiemb's article on how to become a Whyville Times Writer, I was still confused. I wouldn't like to know how many articles to write but what to write. The editor mentions that you should write articles about top notch-science, or help articles, but what do you mean? What are some examples of "Top Notch" science articles or "Masterpieces?" I would really like to know because I have found myself thinking and thinking about what to write and I would really like some ideas, or at least an example on what kinds of top-notch science count. Please help, I am very interested.

Editor's Reply: Thanks for your questions!

First off, it's not necessary that you write on science or help articles. It's just that this is the main purpose of the Whyville Times -- to explore and enlighten -- and yet we don't get a ton of submissions like that.

I strongly urge you to read good magazines and books to find out what "top notch" writing is. Ask your teachers or go to the library and ask them for "best of" anthologies -- they're collections of stories like "Best of American Science Writing" and "Norton Anthology of American Literature." The Norton series includes poetry and other styles, as well, which good writers will probably really get into.

For the Whyville Times, the most important thing is that you ask questions. Don't just assume what you read is true, what you've been told is the law. Why do people believe that? Why does it work that way? What other questions can you possibly ask? And what do you want to ask your readers? Think about what you've written, ask yourself why it's put together that way and if your logic makes sense.

Also absolutely vital is original writing. Put it in your own words -- think about the topic and write the whole thing from scratch. Ever since I started encouraging our writers to do more research, I've seen a rise in plagiarism, or near-plagiarism. This happens because kids look up what an adult has written, think it's too good to improve upon, and send it in to me as though they wrote it, thinking that referring to the website or book is enough. It's not, though I appreciate the work it took to get that far. Top-notch writers, however, learn how to absorb information and communicate it in their own ways, unique and fresh!

Consistent, good grammar and spelling will increase your chances of being published a dozen times. I know most of you have a spell check AND a grammar check on your computer, even in your email program -- use it! If you don't, though, that's no excuse -- there's always a dictionary. And the very best writers realize that two heads (or more) are better than one. They have their friends, parents, teachers read their work before submitting it to a professional editor. The more your words sparkle and shine, the more it will catch an editor's eye and make him or her *want* to read your piece!

Now, as for topics.... Look at your favorite news website, newspaper, television show and find out what's in the news. See what's intriguing, what makes you wonder and think. Then explore it -- learn more, challenge the experts, ask questions -- and write about what you've learned, what you're learning, and what you hope to learn in the future. Figure out how scientists write, and how they *should* write -- the two aren't always the same. And remember, just because EVERYBODY is writing about one topic doesn't mean you should; but if you do, PLEASE don't just say the same thing everybody else has said. Give me a reason I should publish what you wrote instead of the other person!

Help topics are perhaps the easiest. What games and programs did you ask questions about in Whyville? Which ones are you still wondering about? First -- Make sure a good article about this isn't already in the Times. Then, write an in-depth, detailed explanation of how to do anything and everything you could ever want with that tool or game or whatever it is. Ask your friends to read it and tell you if *any* part of it doesn't make sense.

Rewrite, revise, throw it all out if you need to and do it over if you must. Good writers force themselves to try to publish only the best works they can write.

That's what makes the best Times Writers -- though I will admit with some chagrin that not all Times Writers follow these guidelines. In fact, I've been seeing a surprising amount of self-indulgence in some writing I've received lately, from Times Writers and others, so we at the Times are thinking of reconsidering all the titles we've given out so far. There may be a big overhaul, which may include people losing old titles and new titles being created. Keep reading the Times to learn more!

*Takes deep breath* Whew, I talk a lot! And yet there's so much more that could be said!

Times Editor


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