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A Basic Guide to Writing Skills

woman writing

Aspiring freelance writers often find themselves wondering if they have what it takes to succeed in this competitive field. Although you don’t necessarily need a degree in English, communications, or journalism to be a successful freelance writer, you do need to be able to understand a basic guide to writing skills.

The Inverted Pyramid

If you are planning to write for a newspaper, magazine, or website, it’s important to make sure you are familiar with the inverted pyramid style of writing.

An article written in the inverted pyramid style is organized to list facts in the order of importance. Originally, this was intended to make it easier for editors to quickly cut an article down if there was not enough space available to print the entire piece. Today, the format is still used online because research has proven website visitors often don’t stick around long enough to finish an entire article. With the inverted pyramid style of writing, they only need to read a few paragraphs to get the answer they are looking for.

When writing in the inverted pyramid style, you should start with a succinct introduction that quickly gets to the point of your article. For example, if your article is about the safety of exercise during pregnancy, you should quickly state that exercising during pregnancy is safe for healthy women who are not experiencing pregnancy complications.

Alternatives to the Inverted Pyramid

Although the inverted pyramid is by far the most common tool for structuring an article, it is not the only method available. Other formats you should be aware of include:

  • Narration or story telling: This format for writing feature stories uses anecdotes, scenes, and dialogue to provide the needed information. Articles sound like part of a novel, even though they are factual in nature.
  • Hourglass: The hourglass format combines elements of both the inverted pyramid and the narration format. The inverted pyramid provides the essential facts, the turn offers a smooth transition, and the narrative gives a chronological retelling of the event. Police stories and courtroom dramas are most often written in this style.
  • Five paragraph essay: The five paragraph essay contains an introduction, three paragraphs of supporting facts, and a conclusion. This is most often associated with high school English assignments, but can be a useful way to structure an editorial or column.

Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

How much do spelling, grammar, and punctuation matter if you want to be a freelance writer? While it’s true that computers have spell check and articles will be edited before they are published, you can’t expect to get work on a regular basis if you are turning in copy that’s riddled with errors. Follow some reasonable editing and proofreading tips to ensure your articles are error-free.

Examples of commonly misspelled words include:

  • Indispensable
  • Commitment
  • Occurrence
  • Harass
  • Desperate
  • Embarrassment
  • Superseded
  • Privilege
  • Fulfillment
  • Judgment

Common grammar errors include:

  • Sentence fragments that are missing a subject or verb or both
  • Using a plural pronoun when a collective noun is acting as a singular unit
  • Illogical verb tense, such as shifting from past to present tense in the same sentence with no apparent reason

Examples of common punctuation mistakes include:

  • Using a comma to join two complete sentences without placing either a semicolon or an appropriate joining word between them
  • Forgetting to use an apostrophe to indicate a possessive
  • Confusing “it’s” with “its”

The AP Stylebook is a good resource for answering any questions that you may have regarding spelling, grammar, and punctuation in your writing.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even though it sometimes seem like successful freelancers have been blessed with a natural talent for writing, most have spent years perfecting their craft. Do not be discouraged by rejection or criticism of your work. Study examples of writing by people you admire and keep revising your own articles. In time, you’ll be able to enjoy the thrill of seeing your byline in print.

A Basic Guide to Writing Skills