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This is the place for any magazine-related discussions that don't fit in any of the column discussion boards below.
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JPKNHTP
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Post by JPKNHTP » Thu Apr 13, 2006 4:11 am

-JPKNHTP
-God Bless

Engineer1138
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Post by Engineer1138 » Thu Apr 13, 2006 7:19 am

I wrote a short N&V article many years ago. It's not hard: just pretend you're explaining to a friend what you did.

Michael J
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Post by Michael J » Sat Apr 15, 2006 6:15 am

I have written an article for N&V and a few for Australian magazines.
You should include everything from the initial idea to final testing and
assembly in reasonable detail, remember also there may be young hobbyists who don't have a clue, you need to cater for them also.
Keep it simple and concise. You may also need schematics, diagrams,
photos, program code, prototypes, etc to support the written text.
The project must do what you say it will do, nothing worse than making
a dud project. You also need to decide if you wish to make the entire
project free from copyright for commercial use or not. Although if
published it will automatically become copyright to you.

From start to finish it may take 2 months or so for an average project
then up to six months to hit the presses.

I am mainly into basic electronics and a little picaxe as well, and Stamps
are for licking and postage, but I may be able to help if you are interested
depending on the project.

Michael J

Dean Huster
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Post by Dean Huster » Sat Apr 15, 2006 2:14 pm

When I was writing for Poptronics, I got a similar question, but the magazine went under before the answer was published. I revised the answer into a longer "article" with more information than would be practical in a "Q & A" answer. Here it is:


Writing Magazine Articles


I might preface this article by saying that writing guidelines for many magazines are available for free from most magazine publishers. For instance, if you wish to write for Electronic Design magazine, a Penton publication, they will send you a guideline. Most guidelines will provide you with their requirements for technical content, writing style and other pertinent information appropriate for the particular magazine. In addition, there are high school and college courses available for various type of writing although most tend to ignore technical writing. This article is a grass-roots type of guideline for general technical writing.


Give It Personality

First of all, be yourself. But being yourself only means to let the nice qualities of your personality bleed through to your writing so that the material takes on a lively characteristic rather than being boring. It's really nice if someone can pick up an article and know that it was written by you just because of the style. Bob Pease of National Semiconductor Corporation is like that when he writes his "Pease Porridge" column in Electronic Design magazine. I always felt I was that way when I wrote the "Q & A" column for Poptronics magazine and in any of the curriculum I write.

Somewhere around 1997, I had started becoming active on the Gernsback electronics forum, back in the days when Gernsback was publishing both Popular Electronics and Electronics Now magazines. I'm a teacher, so whenever I answered questions, I treated the original poster with respect and answered the question even though others might "flame" the individual, calling him or her stupid for not knowing something so simple. I never made fun of anyone although I often would write humorously. Larry Steckler was reviewing the forum over the course of several weeks and asked if I would be interested in taking over the "Q & A" column in what would be the new Poptronics magazine, the previous two titles combined into one. Had I been one to abuse other folks on the forum or one who would post answers that were often in error, he would have never considered offering me the job. As it was, I ended up doing what I had always dreamed of doing since I was a kid back in the early sixties – writing for Popular Electronics or one of the other electronics hobbyist magazines.

Write to your reader, not down to your reader. Share information with the reader. Don't lecture the reader. Make the reader enjoy what you have to write and make him or her want more, maybe wishing for a "Part 2" of the material. I can remember when I finally finished James Michener's novel Centennial and his later novel, Alaska. They were wonderful books. They had an end. But I wanted more. I really didn't want them to end so soon. Why couldn't he have inserted another twenty chapters into the books? That's the way you'd like your reader to feel. Make the readers want to go out and buy next month's magazine just for your column.


Spelling and Grammar

Misspelled words are distracting to the reader and if you can't spell, the reader will assume that you probably are not going to care if other details in your article are correct. Do not depend upon a spelling checker to proofread your article for spelling. My mistakes are often ones that end up being legitimate words. For instance, I often automatically add a "d" to the word "an" or type "or" when I meant "of". It's habit. The fingers automatically form the words because I learned to touch type back in 1966. Had I missed the apostrophe on the contraction "it's", the speller would have let it pass.

You can proofread your own article, but you'll skip over a large number of errors simply because your brain knows what you mean and will subconsciously "heal" the mistakes as the information passes from your eyes to your understanding. Let someone else read the article. They don't have to be technically literate to catch most spelling errors and if they question the spelling of something like "mnemonic" or "heterodyne", double-check it yourself. Here's another hint: proof it on the computer screen, yes, but print out the material. It's amazing how many "new" errors appear when the material is on paper versus the screen. A paper copy also gives you a good medium upon which to mark up corrections and to edit your copy.

Grammar is much the same. Even if you are a hick from the Ozarks, don't write like a hick. You can be yourself, but that has limits, too! Proper English should always be your goal. Watch out for run-on sentences or sentence fragments. Sentence fragments are an easy error for even seasoned writers to have when they use a word processor to split up sentences and move things around so that the material will read better.



Abbreviations and Acronyms

You don't have to explain common abbreviations, such as those for common measurement units such as inches (in) or pounds (lb). However, abbreviations can often insert a bit of confusion into an article, so if you're going to use an abbreviation only once in the writing, you might just as well spell out the compete word or phrase. An article on frequency counters or shortwave listening might use the abbreviation for Hertz (Hz) a lot of times. In this case, use the whole word the first time with the abbreviation in parenthesis and then use only the abbreviation after that. If the article is aimed at a reader assumed to be well-seasoned in electronics, then common abbreviations such as "v" for volts or "w" for watts need not be explained with the first use. But more complicated ones such as MS/s (megasamples per second) should be explained with the first use, even for a high-end, complex article. Some would disagree with me on this point, but after 40 years in electronics, I still see new things, things that may be three years old and very familiar to someone in that particular specialty, but totally new to me, a person who wants to learn. Give me the explanation and if I already know the material, I'll forgive you for it.


Technical Perfection

If it's going to be published, make darned sure that it's correct. All equations, math and facts need to be double-checked for accuracy. Go over schematic diagrams and other drawings, parts lists, adjustment procedures and test measurements with a fine-tooth comb.

The best way to check all of the various instructions is to have another technical person actually build a project, make those adjustments, compare a parts list to a schematic and make measurements. What you describe may not actually work even though it may have worked for you because you were making certain assumptions based upon your knowledge level and not that of the reader.

I'm reminded of a teacher education class I took where a student was to provide the various steps necessary for the teacher to operate a simple pop-up umbrella while he was facing the opposite direction so that he could not see the teacher. With the first instruction, "Pick up the umbrella," everything went haywire as the instructor was not provided information as to what an umbrella was. So, he picked up a nearby baseball cap and managed to get every instruction to somehow work. When the student finally turned around and found the instructor holding a ball cap over his head, he realized that you cannot necessarily assume the knowledge level of your reader.

When I was writing the "Q & A" column, I often designed circuits to satisfy readers' questions. Only once did I ever publish a circuit diagram without testing it and did I ever get burned on that one. The circuit was just too simple, I thought. There was no need to build it. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it, but I hate spending magazine column time confessing to errors in previous columns. In all other cases of column errors, I had to correct the errors of those who put my material into print. There was only one other time when I published a design that had not been tested, and that design involved nearly 30 integrated circuits. But I was up-front with the readers and told them that the design was just to get the idea off the ground and that the circuit would likely not work as drawn.

If you get into the habit of publishing erroneous material, you'll never have any credibility. You'll lose readership. Eventually, you'll end up without a writing job. If you don't know the material, don't publish. The TAB line of books that were most popular in the 1960s through the 1980s were very poorly edited, riddled with typos and incorrect information, poorly illustrated, poorly written and woefully-short on details needed to make the material really useful. Because of that, I rarely ever bought a TAB book, preferring instead those published by Howard W. Sams and other publishing houses.
Dean Huster, Electronics Curmudgeon
Contributing Editor emeritus, "Q & A", of the former "Poptronics" magazine (formerly "Popular Electronics" and "Electronics Now" magazines).

R.I.P.

Robert Reed
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Post by Robert Reed » Sat Apr 15, 2006 5:27 pm

JPK--
On the N&V home page there is a side bar titled `writers guidelines'. Click on that and they will tell you exactly what they want.

JPKNHTP
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Post by JPKNHTP » Sat Apr 15, 2006 8:51 pm

-JPKNHTP
-God Bless

Dean Huster
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Post by Dean Huster » Sun Apr 16, 2006 5:59 am

Judging by your posts, you are quite capable of writing an article. A proofreader will take care of any anticipated problems. Don't think that you have to "write like an engineer". Not all engineers are good writers, spell well ... or engineer that well, for that matter! You don't want to write down to your intended audience -- you want to write TO them, as I mentioned earlier.

The trick is to tuck you feelings into your pocket and ask for help in proofing, spelling, grammar, etc. if you need it. I've asked my non-technical wife and daughter many times to read technical material. I don't always take their suggestions with regard to style, but I always heed their spelling and grammatical observations.

The bottom line: DON'T SELL YOURSELF SHORT!

Dean
Dean Huster, Electronics Curmudgeon
Contributing Editor emeritus, "Q & A", of the former "Poptronics" magazine (formerly "Popular Electronics" and "Electronics Now" magazines).

R.I.P.

bodgy
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Post by bodgy » Sun Apr 16, 2006 6:44 am

At least you won't have to have a mini sulk having had the editorial personnage carefully remove all those 'U's you lot find so uneccessary in words, and whip out all those 's's and replace them with zeeeeeeeees! :grin:

Puzzling though, was the email of yes we're going to publish reply urgently to us and then ---------------------- ah well win some lose some.



Colin
On a clear disk you can seek forever.

rshayes
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Post by rshayes » Mon Apr 17, 2006 1:19 am

Remember that technical writing is not reviewed by literary critics. It needs to be simple, clear, and in reasonable "standard english" (whatever that really is). And one very important thing, at least these days, is that you don't have to get it right the first time.

When you are writing by hand with a quill pen, you can't easly change things. Even as recently as twenty five years ago, changes to a document meant retyping the entire thing to get a clean copy. This was how secretaries made their living. For a project report, retyping could take a day or two, so there couldn't be many revisions.

The first step is to get something on paper. Then read it. You will immediate realize that what you have written is total garbage, the ideas are in the wrong order, and the grammer is inconsistent and uses awkward grammatical structures.

Mark it up. As I understand it, editors traditionally use blue pencils. Engineers usually use red pens. At this point, most of the changes will be moving paragraphs around to improve the order in which ideas are presented. Make the corrections and print a clean copy.

By this time, gaps in your line of thought will start showing up, and you will probably add new paragraphs to fill the gaps. Make the changes and print it out.

The overall structure will start to be more satisfactory, but you will start noticing that you used different terminology in different places. There may be inconsistancies between paragraphs, such as using first person in one paragraph and second or third person in a following paragraph. Some of the sentences may need to be changed to give a smooth transition between paragraphs. Make the changes and print another copy.

After four or five passes, you should have something that is clear and readable. It won't win literary prizes, but the standard for technical writing is competence, not brilliance.

Now do the same thing for your schematic diagrams. I find that it takes two or three revisions to make a schematic reasonably clear. The first version will have all of the parts and connections on it and will be technically correct. It will also be hard to read. The second version will be reorganized such that voltage levels and signal flow are consistently shown. The third will look remarkably clean with consistent conventions and few crossovers.

The basic idea is that even if you can't produce a brilliant product the first time, you can produce an acceptable product with sufficient revision.

bodgy
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Post by bodgy » Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:22 am

As I think has been mentioned above, write as though you are explaining something to a friend, taking into account that they may not have a great deal of knowledge on the subject. Of course this does depend on who you think your target audience is - you can lose a highly technical one by being too basic as much as the other way around.

For N&V, the target audience is mainly the hobby one, which will range from those who hold the soldering iron by the pointy bit to those who consider anything less than a reflow oven passe (hmm no damn acute thingies).

The things you need to cover are a short explanation/introduction of whatever it is you are writing about, followed by some salient points/description of what the circuit or theory does and perhaps some anecdotes of problems you found that lead to what you now know + if a circuit some ideas on what the end result can be used for. Supposing that it isn't an obvious one use only item.

As the immediate post stated, with a computer you can play about with sentence structure and punctuation.

Things to check before submitting that will not be picked up by a spell checker, thesaurus or grammar checker are;

Their, There, You're, Your, Effect / Affect (my particular bug bear), Where, Were, To, Too. I'm sure there are others, they've just escaped me for the second.

Also look at other people styles, the ones that hold your attention and you find easy to read, are the ones that you could use as a starting point for your own writings - which is not the same as copying or plagerising someone elses work.

Colin
On a clear disk you can seek forever.

Newz2000
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Post by Newz2000 » Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:32 am

J,
I think you should give it a try. You're obviously literate because you post well thought out and understandable messages to this board - better than many who post here.

Here are two tips:

#1 - Use MS Word. Even a slightly older version is OK, but I'd use MS Word 2000 or newer. The reason to use MS Word is that it has two features not found in other processors - Grammar Checker and Thesaurus. (however you may not want to turn the grammar checker and spelling checker on until after your first draft) To use the Thesaurus, click on a word and hit Shift + F7 to see a list of synonyms.

#2 - Read your paper out loud and make notes about places where the flow is rough. After you've fixed these spots read it out loud again. Repeat this cycle as often as necessary.

The best thing to do to make sure your writing flows smoothly for your readers is to read your article aloud. Reading on paper allows your eyes to skip over words, however when you read them aloud (even to your self), any problems with flow will pop right out. I gave this advice to my brother for a high school writing class and his papers went from D's to A's literally (not figuratively) over night.

N&V suggests articles about 2,000 words. This is very challenging, but it can be done. Look for ways to take wordy or long passages and shrink them down. Get help from a friend (my wife is not a writer but she's able to help me with this by simply circling things that she feels aren't quite right).

JPKNHTP
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Post by JPKNHTP » Mon Apr 17, 2006 1:23 pm

-JPKNHTP
-God Bless

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