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At the third annual Agricultural Publications Summit (APS), writing coach Paula LaRocque offered guidelines designed to "prevent good writing from going bad."

Overall, the APS aimed for the same - bad-writing prevention. The three-plus-day conference in August in Grand Rapids, Mich., enabled good writers and photographers to get even better, offering workshops, seminars, discussions, awards programs and networking.

LaRocque’s writing clinic was one of many opportunities at the APS for the 425 attending ag writers, editors, photographers, publishers and students to polish professional skills. Attendees worked on personal, as well as professional development, with many chances to make new and rekindle old friendships.

The friendship part was easy. My lunchtable-mates and I laughed until we cried at Positive Attitude Specialist Kathy Brown, when she suggested leading people in a rousing sing-along of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" the next time we got onto an elevator.

We cheered on our favorite team in the Ag Olympics, with events including cherry pit spitting and Christmas tree tossing. Teams represented each of the three APS-sponsoring organizations - the American Agricultural Editors’ Association (AAEA), the Livestock Publications Council (LPC) and APA, the Association of Leading Ag Media Companies - and the Agricultural Relations Council and students.

We laughed at former, long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas’ jabs at the current Bush administration when she said, "I’ve just come from Washington. Let us pray."

The professional development part was a little harder. Not that the workshops weren’t good. Most were great. Sessions offered lots of subject variety and excellent presenters. It just takes a while to put some of the things learned into practice. For example, in LaRocque’s writing clinic, she told us to keep sentences short, avoid jargon and formula, and cut deadwood and redundancy. That’s easier said than done.

But LaRocque’s clinic was my favorite. Her guidelines and advice for better writing were practical and sensible. For example, she told us to "keep verbs in the same neighborhood as the subject, or at least in the same city."

LaRocque told us to try to communicate rather than impress and to lay off the jargon in our writing.

"We lace our work with formal jargon because we think it’s better," she says. "Speech came first. Good writing is good speech on paper. "Ask yourself how you would say it if you were speaking and use that conversational model in writing."

We need to be better wordsmiths. The Oxford English Dictionary has about 612,000 words, while the average media writer has a lexicon of about 5,000, according to LaRocque. Knowing the right word to use helps eliminate wordiness.

"Our innate snobbery may keep us from writing clearly," LaRocque says. "Memorable writing is always simple writing." AM

Editor’s Note: The next APS will be held July 22-25, 2002, at the Silver Legacy Casino and Resort in Reno, Nev.


AAEA Photographer of the Year - Dean Houghton, freelance
Photo of the Year - Mike Raine, The Western Producer
Cover of the Year - Cooperative Partners
Portrait/Personality - Denny McClintic, The Furrow
Pictorial -Dean Houghton, freelance
Feature - Mike Raine, The Western Producer
Nuts & Bolts
Livestock - Jim Patrico, Progressive Farmer
Crops -Bob Elbert, freelance
Picture Story/Sequence/Essay - Jim Patrico, Progressive Farmer
Best Use of Photos/Design - The Furrow
Master Photographer - Dean Houghton, freelance

AAEA Writer of the Year - Gil Gullickson, Farm Industry News
2001 Story of the Year - Marcia Taylor, "Redefining BIG," Top Producer
Editorial Opinion - Becky Mills, "Mad Cows and Strip Malls," Dairy Today
Human Interest - Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, "The Healing Power of Butterflies," Texas Co-op Power
Humorous Article - Dan Crummett, "A Four-Wheel Bulldogger," Farmer-Stockman
Internet Breaking News - Dean Houghton, "Special Report: Mexico,"
Issues - Daniel Zinkand, "Market at Risk," Iowa Farmer Today
On-Farm Production Article - Charles Johnson, "2000 Environmental Stewards of the Pork Industry," National Hog Farmer
Personality Profile - Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, "Dean Hurlburt: Mr. Organization," Angus Journal
Regular Column - Rich Fee, "Corn Growers Should Explore Alternatives to Fall Nitrogen," Successful Farming
Technical Feature - Jason Gerke, "Bid the Grid," Drovers
Team Story - Marcia Taylor, Darrell Smith, Laura Sands, Elizabeth Williams and Pam Henderson, "Redefining BIG," Top Producer
2001 Master Writers - Jeanne Bernick, Rod Fee, Joe Roybal, Cherry Stout, John Walter, Ed White, Tim White
Debby Hartke is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Louis, Mo.

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