Writing 101: What's the Point?


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Much has been said about writing being both a science and an art. And while some forms of writing involve varying degrees of creativity, they all share one requirement: they all need a "point." Not just a topic, but a reason or a conclusion that a reader should be able to distinguish.

It doesn't matter whether you're tasked to write an essay, a marketing piece, a website, a blog, a social media post, a news article, or a scientific paper (this is especially true for technical documents such as position papers, scientific documents and technical manuals) — everything needs a point.

While it may sound simple enough, a lot of writers struggle with this concept—whether they're aware of it or not. Writing is a skill that's made up of a lot of different parts after all, and the ability to drive a reader or audience towards a clear, concise point is one that the best writers and communicators share.

There are a lot of ways to arrive at a point. Unless you're writing a very structured piece, such as a technical manual or scientific paper, a lot of writing types aren't linear. For example, news writing requires "the point" to be at the very beginning, while long form magazine articles that are meant to entertain can take a more creatively varied route. With that being said, a reader should still be able to tell what it's about just by looking at the title or by reading the first paragraph.

Create an Outline

A common way to stay on topic is by creating an outline based on a statement—which is the central "point" of what you're doing. For freelancers, that would be the basis of your "pitch" to your clients. Think of a central point, then structure your outline to build around it.

If you need a tip on how to structure an outline, create questions that you want your article or piece to answer. Doing this can help you avoid unnecessary deviation from your topic, which is a waste of time and effort.

Sharpen the Point

"Sharpening the point" is related to the previous part about outlines, and should be used to improve your pitch. It basically means narrowing your pitch or central point into a very specific line of thought. This can be applied to topics that are either very general, or ones that are too complex or vague. 

For example, if you're thinking of writing about "The History of The Beatles", you have to consider that an all-encompassing topic like that could take weeks (or months) of research and writing. Unless you've been tasked to write an entire encyclopedia entry about the famous band, it's a topic that could go anywhere but ultimately lead to nowhere. Make it easy on yourself and sharpen your point by narrowing your topic down to be more specific. "Recent Examples of How The Beatles Influenced the Modern Music Industry" is a better way to structure your topic, as it has a clear point, purpose, and direction. It should also be easier to research and write about, and it sounds more compelling to your reader. 

You can then branch out your outline from there by following it up with logical questions that you need to answer, like "how the band influenced the most famous musicians today," "what are the styles and songwriting methods that can be traced back to the band," or add a list of recent remade songs.

Quick Tip for Casual Writing

Finally, here's a practical tip to make sure that you stay on-point: if you're writing a more casual, unstructured piece like a blog, you can skip on having to create an outline and draft by writing "what's the point?" on your very first line. It's a reminder to make sure that everything you write is aimed at, or contributes to, that point. 

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Sean is a professional tech journalist and editor with more than a decade of experience covering consumer tech and information security for both print and online publications. He currently works for an IT security company by day and freelances at night.

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