Writer's Guide for www.nebraskapen.org

©2000 www.nebraskapen.org Last updated: 01/05/01

Remember the Purpose

The most important thing for inmates writing articles for this website to remember is to explain who, what, when, where, and WHY. This is not a place for whining about being in prison. If you write about conditions in prison, write about what the conditions are and why they are that way, who is responsible, what they are doing, and WHY. Strive to explain "why;" that is what we call "why-ning." You can say things are right or wrong, but always strive to explain why.

Obviously we will not knowingly publish libel, threats, or unsubstantiated claims. We have and will refuse to publish articles that call people names or insults, such as "f---ing faggots." Remember the purpose and edit yourself.

Document Your Claims

Being in prison you know the amount of paperwork that gets generated there. Save your documents that will support your claims. "Kites," Grievances, Shakedown Reports, Classification notes, Parole Board Decisions, Memos, and Letters can all be used to support your claims. If you write about something in the news, save a copy of a newspaper article about it. The more extraordinary your claims, the more extraordinary your proof should be.

Keep your originals! When you submit your article send along any photocopies of any documentation that you feel will support what you are saying. We cannot be responsible for any documents you send us; you do so at your own risk.

Website Style

Studies have shown that people read 25 percent slower off computer monitors than from paper. Organize your writing to capture and keep the short attention span of the readers. The most common way to do that on the World Wide Web is known as "chunking." Notice how this Writer's Guide is organized. The subject is broken down into chunks that are labeled with a minor heading. Each chunk contains only one or a few paragraphs to make the point in that chunk. The minor headings are printed in a different color (blue) than the text so they attract the readers attention to the topic of the chunk that follows it.

By keeping your chunks around two or three paragraphs at most, the reader will see at least one minor heading at the bottom of their screen before the previous one scrolls off the top. That helps to keep their attention flowing from chunk to chunk through the article.

Start with an Outline

Make an outline of the story you want to communicate. Use only the main points of the story in your outline. This outline can then be used to create the minor headlines for the chunks. Fill in the details in paragraphs between the minor headlines. Keep to the point! If your writing begins to stray from what the minor heading talks about start a new paragraph or a new chunk.

Use Links to Explain Details

Publishing on the Web is different than paper. You can use hypertext links to provide depth and detail to you writing. For example, perhaps you want to show that a statute or rule says the Dept. of Corrections has to do something. Keep your article simple, like so:Neb.Rev.Stat. §83-1,107 requires the warden to give good-time credits." Rather than reciting the whole statute or even that part of the statute that says what you claim.

On the Web we make a "link" out of the statute number. A link is text that appears in a different color and underlined. When a reader wants to see that §83-1,107 really does say what you claim it does they can click on the statute number link and the text of the statute will appear with that portion of the statute that says what you claim italicized to stand out. At the end of the statute's text we add a reverse link back to where the reader came from. In this way you use links to create footnotes that provide more detailed explanations. This method also works well for reciting from case law citations.

Using links this way helps keep your main story simple. Use the links to provide the details. That way readers who quickly want the story can get it and those readers who want more detail can click on the links and get the details they want.

Hard Copy

When submitting articles for publication please send two typed copies, with double spaced lines. One copy should have no markup other than the text itself. This is necessary to have a clean copy for scanning into the computer. We can take handwritten documents but it is a lot more work. It takes far less of our volunteers time if you type them.

The second copy should be marked up to show emphasis such as italics and case citations and also to point out links. Highlighters are great for this. Use a yellow highlighter to show italicized text and case citations. Use blue for the links. If you don't have these colors make a note to show what colors represent what and be consistent in their use. If you don't have highlighters circle your italicized phrases in pencil and circle your links in blue ink. When all else fails, circle the text and note in the margin whether this is italics or a link.

Please do not underline text for emphasis or to show case citations. This creates problems for the scanner and slows us down. Just mark your case citations and emphasized words on the second copy of your text with all the other markup.

Linked documents

For each link include a copy of the text you want to link to. For example, send a copy of the statute, OM, AR, or page from the case you want to cite. Use the yellow highlighter to show which portion you want emphasized. Make sure you identify on the photocopy which link in your article connects to this text.

Copyrights and Authorship

You are the author of your article. You may copyright your article on paper yourself if you wish. The organization copyrights every article (in digital form) that it publishes on the website. You may still give others permission to publish your article on the web or other media; you decide that. However, once we publish a submitted article on the website the organization owns the copyright to our digital form and may permit others to reprint that digital form on their websites or in hard copy.

We do not normally print authors names with their articles. The website is not a marketplace for inmates to search for pen-pals. There are plenty of other websites for that. Readers can respond to any article by leaving e-mail. If readers ask questions or challenge your arguments we may publish their letters under your article and ask you to respond to them through the website. You would be sent a copy of the question or response and asked to mail us back your answer. We might then publish that answer on the website too.

Share This Information

Please feel free to share this information with other inmates at your institution and pass it along to those moving to other institutions. This is your chance to share the news that rarely gets printed.

P.O. Box 81103
Lincoln, NE 68501-1103

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