Providing software solutions since 1976
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Writing Tips & Techniques
We assume that you know what you're writing about. The question now is, how do you write about it?
The exhausted old bromide, “Write what you know,” of course applies to writing for SAS Press. We publish technical information and that information must not only be clear and understandable, it must also be correct. We assume that you know what you're writing about. The question now is, how do you write about it?
The answer? Write how you feel. That will be your style. And style must be natural; it must flow from you as part of your personality and as part of your way of thinking and explaining what you think. The great difference between the books we publish at SAS Press and the customer documentation our sister departments in Documentation Development produce is that our publications are supposed to be distinct and separate; they are not supposed to sound as though they were written by the same person. It is style (and its constituent parts of mood, tone, voice, etc.) that makes for that distinction.
So, how do you develop your own style? I advise authors to imagine they're describing something to a friend—an intelligent friend, but one not yet versed in all the details of a subject that the author knows. What would that friend need to be told and how would you tell him or her? Would you use short, direct sentences or long, convoluted ones? Would you add levity here and there to break the monotony, or would you drone on and on? Would you strive to come across as a patronizing know-it-all or would you want to maintain a friendly conversational tone? There is a right answer to these questions, of course, and I don't have to tell you what it is. The best approach to writing the kind of books we publish is to imagine yourself teaching that intelligent pupil about what you know. Inform, but don't talk down to. Explain fully, but avoid needless repetition. Be aware of grammatical rules, but don't be a slave to Mrs. Grundy. Be yourself. To paraphrase the late Buck Owens, “All you gotta do is act—and write—naturally.”
-- George McDaniel, Acquisitions Editor