Writing Up

Once you have most of your research in hand, you can start writing.

Telling Stories

As you write, remember that most people will be looking at this website for fun. Our job as writers is to make the objects and their histories as appealing and interesting as possible. This is not academic writing. Nor is it just pure description either. Make sure your writing is clear, accessible, and lively. It should be engaging without being wordy or full of technical language. In short, you’re telling a story.

Campfire stories.
Telling stories. Men from United States Army Company A, 16th Infantry around the campfire, Pancho Villa Expedition, May 27, 1916. Photograph by C. Tucker Beckett, public domain.

The point is to draw readers into your object. We want to excite readers about all the interesting stuff and their stories that people like you have found across Wisconsin. We want visitors to the site to follow links to other objects and stories on the site, follow up with radio segments on Wisconsin Life, and even possibly visit the town or museum where the object is from.

By telling a good story, you’re trying to answer the question, “so what?” What might make a lifesaving medal awarded in Milwaukee in 1875 interesting to a resident of Ashland County? Or why might a pillow sham embroidered for a Civilian Conservation Corps recruit in Langlade County be of interest to a hiker living in Madison? Trying to answer similar questions about your object can help you hook your readers. And again, secondary sources—which do a good job of putting historical events in broader context—are very helpful for answering the “so what?”

By telling good stories about our objects and answering the “so what?,” together we can make Wisconsin 101’s online exhibit a valuable and fun resource for people from across the state and beyond.

Woman writing, 1945.
A woman writing at a desk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 1945. Photograph by Robert J. Taylor, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID 56171
Writing Tips

Since they say that easy reading is hard writing, here are some tips to help you with your efforts:

  • Revisit the section of this guide on “object histories.”
  • Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Try to answer the question “so what?” Why might someone from Ashland County be interested in a lifesaving medal awarded in Milwaukee?
  • Use shorter sentences wherever possible.
  • Avoid the passive voice.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • Avoid jargon and long words where simple language will do.
  • “Omit needless words”—i.e., if it’s possible to cut a word, then cut it.
  • Read your writing aloud to help you revise for clarity and flow.
  • And always try to keep in mind the big question: “so what?

Finally, as you write, take some time to peruse existing objects in the Wisconsin 101 exhibit. These published objects and their stories not only offer examples of great writing for you to follow, they might also have connections with your own work. If you notice any such connections, be sure to make a note of them and tell us in your final submission.

<<< Back: Researching   |||   Forward: Revising >>>