I get around. I visit facilities all over the country and attend
conventions regularly. My business allows me access to a wide array of talented
people in our field and for this, I’m exceedingly grateful. The ideas and
techniques developed and employed by some of these folks are downright
inspiring and have sometimes led me to an idea for a new article.
Many of these talented folks have asked me to write an article on some
technique or material that they use. While these requests are greatly
appreciated, it’s usually not feasible for me to do the writing. For one
thing, it’s not my technique that they’re suggesting and I don’t
want to appear to take credit for someone else’s idea.
Also, there are usually small details in the fabrication that I may not
be familiar with. The tools that allow me to do things differently than you
might be different from the tools you use. Slight technical variations can
arise from time to time that can only be discovered from experience. Without
these details, a technical article can leave the reader confused and
ill-informed when he tries to apply the technique in his own lab.
Write your own article
For these reasons and others, it’s usually best for a person with
intimate knowledge of a process to do the actual writing. The experience gained
in performing the technique is necessary for accurate communication. When I
make this suggestion, I’m usually met by the same refrain of “I
don’t know how to write an article!” Neither did I the first time I
wrote one and some might argue that after 10 years and several dozen articles,
I still don’t. That opinion aside, I’d say I’m at least equipped
to advise someone on how to teach themselves to do it.
If you have the help and guidance of a good editor, writing an article
is simple. As with everything else we do, preparation is key to success. To
prepare, make a list of the tools you need, the materials you need and the
steps you’ll take to put them all together. Once that has been done, you
can begin writing.
List and explain
People like a step-by-step list of things to do. They also want to be
prepared before attempting a new technique by knowing ahead of time what
materials and tools are needed. Equally important to know is what problems may
arise during the process and how to solve them.
For your first article, you might want to make it simple. You can get
fancier in future articles if you find a taste for writing, but for your first
one keep it short and sweet. You might want to start by populating a list of
bullet points. You can set them up as a narrative, although that’s a bit
more complicated. However you decide to compose your article, it’s best to
first lay out the important information and then add the elements which make it
I do what I call “list and explain.” I’ll make a list of
what I want to talk about in a section, usually either tools, materials or
processes, and after each point I’ll explain what I mean or how it applies
to the overall article. For example, if you’re discussing how to fill a
cast with plaster:
- Seal cast: Wrap the cast in plaster bandage where it’s weak and
then seal up the seam so that it is won’t leak.
- Mix plaster: Combine water and molding plaster in a bucket and mix
until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Fill cast: Pour the mixed liquid plaster into the sealed cast and
allow it to harden.
- Strip cast: Remove the negative plaster bandage wrap from the
hardened plaster mold.
You can add details as required, making these sections as long or as
short as you desire. The important thing is to lay out the core of the article.
Once that has been established, you can work on the difficult parts: the
introduction and the conclusion.
The introduction is how you begin the article. It introduces the topic
to the reader and explains why you are writing the article or why the
information is important. This section might contain a question that is
answered in the body of the article. It might contain some historical
perspective which is brought up to date in the rest of the article. These
details can vary quite a bit from author to author and article to article.
The conclusion of the article takes the information provided in the
article and gives a general summation of what was learned or written. Often
this part is the most difficult to write because you likely feel as though
everything you wanted to say has already been said. But because this is the
last thing readers see it will probably be the part they remember most. Try to
write a comprehensive, memorable conclusion because it might make or break the
Read it several times
After you have written the article — and you think it’s pretty
good — let it sit for a couple of days and then read it as though
you’ve never seen it before. Ask someone else to read it a few times and
give their opinion of it. Yes, you will have the benefit of an editor making
sure it makes some sense before publication, but it’s best to give that
editor something they can work with first. Bear in mind this is constructive
criticism and be willing to learn from your mistakes. You’ll be surprised
by the errors that appear or by sentences that made sense when you wrote them
but now have somehow lost their meaning along the way.
Take some time to clean up sentences and don’t use more words than
you need to make your point. Often the subject seemed to be obvious when you
wrote the sentence the first time, but upon editing needs clarification. I have
found that a concept that seems clear in my head can become unclear on paper.
The culprit is almost always an improperly constructed sentence. Such sentences
stick out like a beacon when read after time illuminates them.
Share your knowledge
The industry as a whole needs our most talented individuals to step up
and share their knowledge and techniques with like-minded people. When you
develop a better way to do something, or you discover a tool from another
industry that can be used in O&P, you can enrich our entire industry by
sharing that knowledge with your peers.
In addition, an informative, well-written article might bring you a
small moment of fame. You will be able to frame your published work and hang it
next to your workbench and be the envy of your workmates.