STEP 1: ROUGH DRAFT
If you’d like to produce an audio essay, the first step is to write a rough draft the same way you would for any other kind of essay project. You might find it useful to start with an outline or cluster map that helps you identify key moments in the story, or you might simply start drafting and see where the writing takes you, keeping in mind that what you’re working on is a rough draft that may need substantial revision.
Once you have a draft you can share with classmates, you’ll do so in a word processing document rather than in storyboard format, which is what your classmates will use for audiovisual or visual projects.
Here are a few writing tips:
Write in a conversational style.
You might find it helpful to imagine that you’re writing your story to a friend by email, so that you can break free from the typical academic essay style you may be accustomed to with other college papers.
Use vivid details that paint a movie in the listeners’ mind.
Listeners are far more likely to pay attention to your essay if it’s grounded in vivid, concrete details that enable them to imagine what you’re talking about, almost as though they can see it as a mental movie. Keep abstract observations to a minimum as these are harder for listeners to pay attention to. Concrete details might include descriptions of appearance, sound, smell, taste, or touch, as well as dialogue and observations about people’s behavior and personalities.
Use a simple and very clear method of organizing your essay.
Listeners can’t follow a complex organizational structure as easily as readers can, so keep your structure simple and easy to follow, and make generous use of topic sentences, transitions, foreshadowing, recaps, and other “sign posts” for your listeners.
STEP 2: TRIAL RECORDING
After you make further revisions to the transcript, it’s time to make a trial recording. When you listen to words conveyed as audio, you’ll gain insight into how to revise the transcript and also how to improve your delivery.
You’ll also gain experience with using the audio tools you’ll continue to use throughout the process.
For help making a trial recording, see the handout under the Composing with Audio category.
STEP 3: FULL DRAFT
After you receive feedback on your trial recording, the next step is to further revise the transcript to improve structure, writing style, and use of details to make the essay or story more appealing to those who will listen to it rather than read it.
You’ll also want to work on your delivery, so that the audio recording sounds natural and conversational rather than like someone reading a paper out loud. To hear what effective audio delivery sounds like, go to Audible.com and search for a fiction audiobook that gets high ratings for performance. Listen to the free sample and take note of what makes the delivery appealing.
At this stage you might also want to consider whether you’d like to incorporate some sound effects, like short segments of music in the opening, between major sections, and at the end. Music can help establish a mood or tone or signal a transition. It also gives listeners a brief moment to pause and reflect on what they’ve just heard.
For examples of how music and sound effects can enhance audio, try listening to a few stories from This American Life, which airs regularly on public radio.
For help making a full draft, see the handout under the Composing with Audio category.
STEP 4: FINAL VERSION
After you receive feedback on the full draft, you’ll take time to revise your transcript before you prepare a final recording, which should demonstrate proficiency with the technicalities of recording an essay or story for audio delivery. For example, your voice should be clear and easy to hear, and the recording should be free of any background noises or other distractions.
You’ll export the final version in mp3 format and upload it to the class blog, along with any additional materials described on the relevant assignment or calendar entry for your class.