Being Sandra in Spain isn’t all glamour and film premieres, and interviewing famous people. Today, for example, I’m sitting here in our static caravan in Bigbury Bay in sunny – make that very rainy – Devon. Nobody famous – or even infamous – fancies being interviewed today, so while I was seeking inspiration for a new blog post, I did some of my ‘bread and butter’ work. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected ways, and today was such a day.
As well as being a writer, I’m a trained editor and proofreader, and one of my more challenging regular jobs is assessing and providing feedback to newbie writers on a training course. They write an article after completing the course, and I assess it for grammar, conciseness, readability, provision of relevant information, educational and/or entertainment value, originality and all the other stuff that goes into crafting a memorable article. The nature of the beast is that many of them are not memorable, or are memorable for all the wrong reasons. The only thing that keeps me going through the hundredth article of the week about weight loss, relationships and making money on the Internet is the hope that someone, somewhere will eventually ‘get’ the whole writing thing and go on to write stuff I’ll read because I want to, not because I’m paid to do it.
Regurgitated Google is normally the Dish of the Day, and I have a few stock phrases that I can copy and paste from a word document to save time. One of the most often used is ‘Needs a proper conclusion.’ It’s astonishing how many newbie writers have no concept of the function of a conclusion, and even less idea of how to write an effective one. All the best articles – those that make you glad you opened them in your news feed or clicked on them in the search results – have a beginning, a middle and an end, even if the reader doesn’t realise it. There’s an introduction to broach the topic in an engaging way to make the reader stay with you, a body of content that informs and/or entertains, and a conclusion that neatly summarises and wraps up the article, and reminds the reader what they should be taking away. Sounds simple really, doesn’t it, but it’s surprising how many people don’t latch on to this.
I see so-called conclusions that just say ‘Follow these tips and you will definitely lose weight/save your marriage/make friends/find your perfect date/make a six-figure income online…’ The list goes on and on in arrogance and ignorance. Where do I start on what is wrong? All these topics affect individuals, who are by definition different, so what helps you lose weight, etc. may not work for your friend or neighbour. These may not be the right tips for you, or anyone, so it’s arrogant of the author to promise results. Even the experts don’t do that, because they realise that nothing is universal or easy, especially when it comes to life as we know it.
But the real problem – and this is where the ignorance comes in – is that people do anything and everything in conclusions other than conclude the article. They’ll tack on afterthoughts like, ‘Don’t forget to exercise as well as count calories, or you won’t lose as much weight as you want to.’ This is the first mention of excercise, and it comes in the conclusion, which is not the place for new thoughts. Then there’s the trite statement that makes the reader cringe: ‘Your marriage is worth saving, because you are joined together by God for ever.’ Not everyone believes in God – or marriage for that matter – so this is patronising in the extreme. It’s going to make the reader feel bad if they can’t save their marriage, or it’s going to alienate them from the author. Either way, it’s not good, and it’s not what a conclusion should do.
Then there’s the favourite beloved of the sensationalist writers who think you have to lay it on to get on in the writing world: ‘If you write informative blog posts, promote your product on Facebook and network effectively, you’ll soon earn a six-figure income online, from the comfort of your own home.’ That’s better, in that it’s summarising stuff you’ve mentioned in the article, but it’s holding out an unrealistic promise. There’s a lot more to making money online than this, and very few people achieve life-changing incomes just from working at home.
Times without number, I have to say ‘Please read up on what makes an effective conclusion, then rework this.’ Times without number, they don’t – they just resubmit it, hoping they’ll get a different assessor the next time, then get a shock when I tell them not to waste my time or theirs by resubmitting without following editorial advice and feedback.
Today was different though, and that’s why I cracked the cava a few hours early. Not one, but two people wrote a proper conclusion that briefly summarised the article and reminded the reader of the important stuff. Not only that, they didn’t try to fool me into thinking they know how to write conclusions by using a sub heading like ‘conclusion,’ ‘final thoughts’ or ‘the last word.’ It was a well-written resume of the article that flowed seamlessly on from the content, referred back to it and belonged there. And although there were other issues that needed addressing, it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling to realise that there are newbie writers out there who know what a conclusion is and how to write one. It made my day, to be honest. (I know – I need to get out more!)