Writers Glossary of Words

Byline–Most magazines publish an author’s name with his article or story or poem, and in some small publications, this may be his only “payment.” . . . Bylines are generally not given for research work, although the writer may receive contributor credit.

Clip (or Clipping)–In journalistic terms, a sample of a writer’s published work, usually from a newspaper or magazine. Editors often indicate that clips or clippings should be mailed or presented in person when applying for a job. A clip can also be a piece cut out of a newspaper or magazine for any other reason. For example, freelance writers may keep files of clips for article ideas and research.

Description–The art of showing the reader how a person, place or thing looks, tastes, feels, sounds, smells or acts. It is more than the amassing of details; it is bringing something to life by carefully choosing and arranging words and phrases to produce the desired effect. . . . Description cannot be objective; it always delivers a specific and intentional graphic message to the reader within the context of the work in which it appears.

Dictionary–A book containing the words of a language, profession, discipline or special interest, arranged alphabetically. Depending on their purpose and scope, dictionaries may supply spellings, pronunciations, meanings, origins and examples of word usage. Dictionaries differ in approach. “Descriptive” volumes reflect current language practice; they do not attempt to establish standards of usage. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is a descriptive work. “Prescriptive” dictionaries, Webster’s Second New International Dictionary is an example, attempt to dictate word usage by labeling certain words or phrases as “slang” or “vulgar.” . . . “Unabridged” dictionaries of the English language are comprehensive works, usually with more than 250,000 entries. . . . “Abridged” dictionaries are taken from the larger edition by the same publisher and contain between 130,000 and 150,000 entries. The “pocket” dictionary comprises concise entries of only commonly used words. “Pronouncing” dictionaries indicate only spelling, pronunciation and syllabification of frequently used words.

Encyclopedia–An encyclopedia is a book or set of books containing alphabetically arranged articles/entries on numerous topics covering either many branches of knowledge or several aspects of one subject field. An encyclopedia’s primary purpose is the clear, accurate presentation of facts. In addition, contemporary encyclopedias may use cross-references to help readers explore concepts further; they may use statistical charts and illustrations and art reproductions to enhance the text; they may include color photographs and striking visuals to establish a rapport with readers. . . . Freelance writers use [encyclopedias] as reference tools, for checking historical facts, dates, etc.

Fiction–This term refers to literary work created in the writer’s imagination and designed to entertain readers. Although it is a work of imagination, it may incorporate large amounts of factual material, and in many genres, e.g., the historical novel and many modern suspense thrillers, the appeal of the story resides as much in the factual background as in the imaginative narrative. The term fiction is generally applied to novels and short stories, but its ingredients are found in other genres, including poetry, drama, film, folklore, and fairy tale.

Freelance–The term free lance was used in the Middle Ages to refer to a knight or soldier who was paid for fighting and offered his services–i.e., his lance–to any available employer. Today freelance has evolved into an adjective that describes an editor, writer, or any other full- or part-time self-employed person who works for a number of clients on a temporary or assignment basis.

Genre–This term can refer either to a general classification of writing, such as the novel or the poem, or to the categories within those classifications, such as the problem novel, the roman à clef, the ode or the sonnet. The word genre is taken from the French and means type or kind. Genre fiction is a term used in the publishing industry to describe commercial [stories], such as mysteries, romances and science fiction.

Grammar–Grammar is a series of statements that defines the basic structure of a language and how it works. A writer’s goal (no matter what his genre or style) is to communicate precisely, logically, directly and clearly. To succeed, he must understand how to use the basic tool of his craft: language.

Interlibrary Loan–Public and college libraries that don’t have a book a writer would like to use for research can sometimes borrow it from another library. The cost to the writer can vary from merely the postage to mail the book to and from the other library to an interlibrary loan fee of perhaps $5-$10. The lending department of the library can advise what kind of fees and waiting time are involved.

Periodical–A publication issued at regularly recurring intervals of more than one day, but less than a year, is classified as a periodical. The term is applied primarily to magazines and journals; it does not ordinarily refer to newspapers.

Prose–All spoken and written language that is not expressed in a regular rhythmic pattern. Prose, as distinguished from poetry, is the ordinary form of communication in words. The distinction between prose and poetry cannot always be clearly defined, however; there are often poetic elements in prose compositions, as well as prosaic poetry. Prose can be fiction or nonfiction.

Redundancy–The use of more words or phrases than are necessary to communicate an idea; needless repetition. Redundancy is a common problem in the work of beginning writers who believe such reiteration will produce greater emphasis. In other cases, writers express an idea in both positive and negative terms when only one statement is ordinarily needed to convey the message. Stating an idea once, clearly and concisely, should suffice. In a long piece of writing, however, it is advisable to provide the reader with a summary at the end, highlighting the major points of the piece.

SASE–This stands for “self-addressed, stamped envelope.”

Setting (also referred to as background)–The time and location in which a story takes place. The term is used in connection with short stories, novels, plays, motion pictures and TV programs. Although a particular setting can be the inspiration for or a powerful presence in a story, it cannot be the essence of it. Other elements, such as plot and characterization, are also necessary to a meaningful story.

Thesaurus–A reference book listing synonyms and antonyms. Some thesauri arrange words alphabetically, while others group them according to subject. Using a thesaurus helps the writer find the exact words he needs to convey a meaning or image.

Yearbooks–These references, which report both on general news and highlights of a given year, can be useful in researching articles summarizing the events of a previous year; nostalgia writers and fiction writers use older editions for reference. Yearbooks are usually published in February or March of the year following the one being covered.


These tips came from the course Getting Started In Writing

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  • Learn basic techniques to improve narrative skills

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