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The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

The Definitive CLUAS Guide To Good Writing

Want to write a decent review or article? Here's what you need to know...

A pencilLike to get published on CLUAS but not sure you're up to it? Or maybe you have already been published on CLUAS  but simply want to improve your writing? Fret not, because help is at hand. CLUAS writer Aidan Curran has boiled it all down to the following 8 simple rules that, if followed, guarantee writing success (or so it says on the packet here).

Writing for an audience of strangers about something you are passionate about can be intimidating for many. Writing a good article or review is no cake walk but - as Aidan reveals below - nor is it an impossible challenge.

You've got an opinion about music? Well then you're more than half way there. Just follow the advice below and a credible, well-written, persuasively argued, engaging article by you will be in the bag. Take it away Aidan...

Rule 1 - Write like a reader, not a writer

The reader wants to know if the album is good or bad, if the concert was dead or deadly. Tell them that. The reader also wants to read an entertaining, stimulating and descriptive review. Write one.

A review is not a shopping list of tracks - you don't need to mention EVERY song. Try mentioning five or six individual songs as evidence to back up various aspects of your opinion on the album/concert as a whole.

Reviews are SUBJECTIVE. 'Objective opinion' is an oxymoron. A review is your opinion on whether the album is good, bad or 'meh'. However, being subjective requires you to be informed, accurate and fair, more so than being objective. Don't exaggerate or go over the top - use our ratings system as a guideline. Anything above 7.5 is something of enduring quality; below 3 is the home of the offensively bad.

Rule 2 - Be honest

"Setting out in advance to write a positive or negative review is a recipe for bad writing."

Though lying and spoofing have their occasional appeal (for many of us it's our only chat-up technique), it's really a lot easier to say what you genuinely think and feel. It also makes for better writing. Nothing beats true feeling or profound beliefs for evoking a scene, arguing a point or capturing a reader's imagination. You can always see through bluff and blather.

So, if the album or gig leaves you hot, cold or lukewarm, just say so - and say WHY. Writing honestly makes for original and stimulating articles. However, try not to fall into the trap of pre-judging. Setting out in advance to write a positive or negative review is a recipe for bad writing.

Rule 3 - Be precise

"Prose is architecture, not interior design" wrote Ernest Hemingway. Good writing is concrete, not gassy or flowery. Choose the word that does the job, never a big word just for effect. Good English is simple English.

"A sentence is a unit of speech, so don't ramble incoherently like a cornered politician."

Be careful with adjectives and adverbs which are vague ('ethereal' or 'transcendent' are often misused) or meaningless ('very' and 'absolutely' are usually unnecessary). Make sure you know the exact meaning and correct use of every word you write, especially adjectives and abstract nouns.

A sentence is a unit of speech, so don't ramble incoherently like a cornered politician. A good style tip is to mix long and short sentences; long sentences are good for description and short sentences have a punchy, dramatic effect if used correctly.

A paragraph is a unit of thought - it should be a self-contained point of your opinion. Break up your text into short paragraphs - remember that a web article needs to be broken up to be read more easily on a computer screen, unlike a print article. Take care with grammar, syntax, apostrophes and other unsexy stuff like that - it's all important.

Rule 4 - Be professional

Being amateur is no excuse for being amateurish. If you're writing about a record then make sure you listen to it attentively, not just once in the background while you're hoovering or on the phone.

"Being amateur is no excuse for being amateurish."

If you're reviewing a gig, it helps if you're familiar with the act beforehand - their records/interviews/previous concerts are your reference points. Remember that a reader may be looking for how their live show develops/adapts their recorded material, so make sure you're reviewing the concert and not the album! Also, on the night you should make a note of the songs played (or ask the nice person at the mixing desk if you can copy the setlist) and anything interesting that happened onstage - it'll help you remember what alcohol made you forget!

Rule 5 - Be thorough

Before submitting your article, print it and proof-read it for coherency, readability and especially spelling mistakes. The most rhetorically inspiring review or logically infallible argument will look amateurish and ridiculous if the reader spots that you misspelt 'rhythm', 'February' or 'AC/DC'.

There is however one exception to this correct-spelling rule: It is currently CLUAS editorial policy to deliberately misspell the name of a certain young Sheffield band of polar primates, for the simple reason that we get more search-engine traffic with the misspelling. Until fans of this band learn to spell correctly, that's how it's going to stay.

Rule 6 - Write a lot

The more you write, the better and quicker you'll get. Try using the CLUAS discussion board as a place to practise expressing your opinions. If you're stuck or you have writer's block, the best advice is "write it, then 'right' it": it's easier to correct and change a text later than to stare at a blank page for hours waiting for the perfect first line.

Rule 7 - Read a lot

"If you only read music writing, your style and vocabulary will be fairly limited".

Not just music writing, but other genres - novels, news, sport, politics, business, travel, restaurant reviews, whatever you're interested in. Good writing will entertain you no matter what the subject is. For would-be writers, reading a newspaper regularly will teach you about style, structure and stimulating ideas. If you only read music writing, your style and vocabulary will be fairly limited and unoriginal.

Rule 8 - Submit an article

Nothing beats the thrill of seeing your article in print, of reading reactions to it on our discussion board, of knowing that what you wrote has made other people think and respond. Once you have been published more than once you can also expect CLUAS to post out to you albums, passes for gigs to review and a lot more. Some CLUAS writers have also gone on to be quoted in national newspapers and websites. You could be next. What are you waiting for? Submit an article now.

Aidan Curran