6 tips for lingcomm writing

These tips were distilled from a discussion among the following panelists at LingComm21 in April 2021:

Identify the audience. Who is likely to read your work, and what do they already know about language? What else might they want to know about language? Recognize that every reader has extensive experience as a language user, which can work both for you and against you. On one hand, a reader’s own experience can make the topic you’re writing about easier for them to relate to. At the same time, they may already have biases and misunderstandings about the topic that are hard to shake off.

Assume that some readers will approach language from a prescriptive angle. If your goal is to demonstrate that language use is interesting and intriguing, rather than “right” or “wrong,” you might have to bring them around to this perspective.

Be educational and entertaining. Both content and style are important. Figure out the story you’re telling, and include just the information that readers need to understand it, not everything you know about the topic. Begin the piece in a way that “hooks” readers early on, and provide clear signposts throughout so they can follow you easily.

Try pitching publications. Some venues (including Babel and Grammar Girl) are interested specifically in writing from linguists, and many more general publications sometimes cover language topics. Writing for publications is a great way of learning more about writing through working with an editor and reaching a larger group of readers than you might be able to do alone. A pitch generally takes the form of an email to an editor with a brief and snappy (one paragraph) description of the article you want to write and why the readers in that particular venue would find it interesting.

Consider the format. A magazine article is different from a blog post, which is different from a podcast script. Based on what you’re writing, think about the expectations that editors and readers might be bringing to your work in terms of structure and style. If you’re not sure, take a look at previously published work—especially from your target publication, if you know it.

Just start writing. If you wait to get everything perfect from the very beginning, you’ll never write a word. Trust that you’ll learn and improve as you go. Starting your own small writing project, such as a blog, can be a great low-stakes way of practicing lingcomm writing and discovering what readers respond to.

This post is part of a series of resources from LingComm21:

  • 6 tips for lingcomm writing
  • 7 tips for lingcomm events
  • 5 tips for lingcomm podcasting
  • 6 tips for lingcomm videos
  • 6 tips for lingcomm funding
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