Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Organizing Your Article: One Resource

One frequent topic of discussion (at least when I was around) in the Salt Lake City hallways and restaurants around last week's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy was "How do I organize my article?" -- whether it's about people or best practices or hard-core genealogy.

Now, we weren't talking about numbering systems here, but about how we tell the story that precedes the genealogical summary and any needed proof arguments. How do we entice the reader? (Even expert professionals would rather be enticed than have to plod.) How do we make it as easy as possible for them to get into the story before we arrive at the technicalities and the begats?

In journalistic parlance this storytelling is more like feature writing than hard news, so we can't really look to most journalism for guidance. And in fact every story is different, and each individual story can be told in many different ways. Some leads are more engaging than others, some conclusions leave you ringing like gong.

There is no general answer on how to do it. But fortunately one of the great nonfiction writers of the last half-century, John McPhee of the New Yorker, has just published an article in said magazine describing his own struggles to organize narrative articles far more complex than any we are likely to attempt as genealogists. (It's paywalled so check it out in any good library or bookstore.) His frank and detailed account of his struggles may spark some ideas or inspire some experiments. And if you haven't read any of his books or articles -- that read so fluently and yet took so much angst to create -- you have many more pleasant surprises ahead as well.

John McPhee, "The Writing Life: Structure,” The New Yorker, January 14, 2013, p. 46 

Harold Henderson, "Organizing Your Article: One Resource," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 January 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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