Short authoritative articles – those where the purpose is strictly to inform rather than to persuade – require a pyramid style, top-down structure, and formal tone.
Authoritative writing of short articles requires a particular style, structure, and tone. These factors are characteristic of scientific writing, encyclopedia articles, some essays, and formal expert communication in a variety of fields where the purpose is to provide information in a concise format.
Style of an Encyclopedia or Authoritative Article
Most authoritative writing will use the MLA style as a basis. The writing should be terse, concise, and clear with no jargon, argot, or verbosity. However, if special terms must be used, they should be explained in the body of the article.
Uses third person point of view. That is, first person (I, we, and their various forms such as me, mine, myself, us, ours etc.) and second person (you, yours etc. ) are not used. Nouns are generally used in place of pronouns (The beginning writer should… rather than One should…)
Even a formal article can be made dynamic and interesting. Active voice, careful choice of words, and descriptive language will all contribute.
Structure of an Encyclopedia or Authoritative Article
A brief authoritative article can use either a news format or a summary format. Both can be considered pyramid structures with a focused lead and a base that broadens as the article progresses.
- News format uses a factual organization with the most important information first, followed by increasing levels of details (so that editors can cut from the bottom to fit available space without sacrificing anything vital).
- Summary format uses a topical organization, with most important topics first and supporting topics below that.
Whichever format is used, the article must start with a concise lead paragraph that defines the overall topic and states the most important points. These might include a summary of the main ideas in the article, the relevance or importance of the subject, any controversies there may be.
The reader who stops after this first paragraph should have the gist of the article, but will be able to “drill down” to the desired level of detail. The article should be short enough that most readers will follow through to the end, yet should contain sufficient detail to provide a reasonable understanding of the subject.
This will be done either in a succession of topics with subheadings (summary format), or by subsequent paragraphs elaborating further detail (news format).
Bulleted points are not common in encyclopedia or scientific writing but may be used to convey details quickly and concisely in a short authoritative article or informative essay.
Tone of a Formal Informative Essay or Encyclopedia Article
The tone of an authoritative article is formal, impersonal, non-judgmental and dispassionate.
- Formal writing uses standard English without slang or idioms. Third person is recommended (first and second person may be used in direct quotes).
- Impersonal means that the author does not include his or her own opinions. Relevant authorities are cited to present major sides of a controversy; a short article may be forced to exclude a minority stance, but the goal is still balanced coverage.
- Nonjudgmental suggests that one side or another in a controversy is not given undue emphasis or space. The authoritative article is not an opinion piece, nor is it an argumentative essay designed to persuade the reader to a point of view; its sole purpose is to inform.
- Dispassionate refers to the emotion or “feeling” of the piece. Where a specific magazine may expect an article to be light in tone – humorous, and optimistic – or where a fiction magazine may seek a mood of gothic mystery – dark and eerie – the authoritative article seeks to be emotionally neutral.
The style, structure, and tone of an authoritative article have definite characteristics. Scientific writing, encyclopedia articles, informative essays, and other expert communications that strive to provide information in a short space will follow these standards.