Craft: White papers

Everyone who doesn’t write them always asks what I’m writing when I’m writing a white paper. I’ve written a few of them over the years. They also ask about some of the other corporate forms I’ve worked on. I thought I’d explain a few.

The “white paper” is a form that takes a concept or a technical subject (I’ve written mostly about technology) and presents it basically as an essay that summarizes the product’s features and how it can be used to solve the problem that the end user is trying to address. A great guy who makes his full living doing them (and just wrote the Dummies book) is

Related technical products include the “case study”, which looks at a particular example of an organization successfully using the product or technology (usually in a shorter format than a white paper). At the shorter end of the spectrum, a “sell sheet” summarizes very briefly (usually in a page) the specifics of a technology or concept.

Now you know!

Editing types

editAs an instructor, I am always explaining and differentiating editing types. I used to include this list directly on my web site but cut to make the page more concise. Here they are:

substantive editing: re-organizing a text and suggesting structural changes, verifying tone consistency, identifying places where information can be added or removed

stylistic editing: eliminating jargon, clarifying text

copyediting: checking texts for grammar/spelling/punctuation based on your in-house style guide or choice of existing styles, ensuring consistencies through documents, fact checking when necessary

proofreading: giving text that final once-over with fresh eyes to catch any unseen typos and error

Writing Book: Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art

Mailer coverLove it when I discover a new writing book that both inspires anecdotally and informs with regards to style.

I haven’t actually read a lot of Norman Mailer (maybe just a couple of essays?) but this book makes me want to read more, and I have taken to adding it to my list to reread. It also makes me feel sort of lazy beside him, you know when you read about a great writer and realize they got great by writing ALL the time? That.

I first read the book a couple of summers ago, when I picked it up at random. A lucky pick. The book also includes chapters on craft including style, real life versus plot life, first person versus third person, and other elements. Going to add it to my annual reread list.

HTML Wizardry

HTMLIn university, I used to work for my local MPP both in his riding (my home riding) and in his Queen’s Park office. I did mostly correspondence, filing, etc., not the most exciting but with nice coworkers.

Then one day in 1997 or so the office decided it might be a good idea to develop “one of those web sites” that were becoming a nice-to-have among other businesses and government agencies. As the bored-est person in the office, I jumped at the chance to be paid to experiment with this new language and create something fun rather than responding to yet another letter to constituents (whose needs are also very important).

I bought myself a copy of “HTML for Dummies” and never looked back.

So, by now they’re probably teaching HTML in high schools. I hope they are anyway, it has probably been around longer than all the programs I learned in high school computers (Lotus notes, anyone? Q-spread?). While most web designers have moved on to use more sophisticated design tools from Dreamweaver to WordPress, I still find being able to “read” HTML is useful.

When you know HTML, you can click on the design tab in this WordPress site and see for yourself what might be going wonky in the code. As a writer, I’ve always found it helpful to know HTML because I’m able to take on jobs that require adding markup to text (less requested nowadays). Here are some of the basics:

HTML tags are formed using triangle brackets like <command>. If a command is supposed to end, a slash is used </end command>. Sometimes the slash is not necessary these days.

Most HTML tags have an opening and an ending tag to bookend a command. This is an old one but most new paragraphs used to have an opening and closing tag <P>paragraph</P>.

HTML pages typically have a nested structure that begins with the larger global information and goes to the smaller information by paragraphs







<P><B >CONTENT</B></P>


See how the head information ends in a section that’s nested in the body section? Or how my text CONTENT is surrounded by paragraph and BOLD tags that open and end.

Anyway, glad not to be hand-coding in HTML anymore as it is so fiddly sometimes, but interesting to know the language.

I recently had my writing class code a short page in HTML just so they would be aware of the language. I told them they would feel like wizards about it, when their tags brought hyperlinks to life in their browsers. And even though most just laughed at my pronouncement, I could tell from their hidden smiles that they did!

Resource: web sites for journalists

I’ve posted about writer websites before, but I like to refresh my list. I visit these so regularly that it hardly occurs to me to share them, but here are a few of the sites I rely on to keep up with the writing industry or scan job postings for interesting freelance opportunities:

D.B. Scott’s Canadian Magazines blog:

– recaps industry news Masthead Magazine which provides industry news, lists jobs, and includes a handful of columnists Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs: mostly job postings but occasionally some interesting profiles

The Storyboard (produced by the Canadian Media Guild):

– features some profiles, industry news, and a blog roundup)

Masthead Online:

– the site for Canada’s magazine about magazines offers both industry news and job postings

Jeff Gaulin:

– the site created by one guy that’s turned out to be the place for posting jobs in the Canadian magazine industry

Media Job Search Canada:

-similar to above

Quill and Quire’s site:

– the site for book jobs in Canada, courtesy of Canada’s book industry magazine

Freelance Writing

– as the title suggests


– Some good columns/gossip, also a good source of US job postings