On writing well…Great advice from Peter Jacobi

October 8, 2007

Peter Jacobi is a household name when in comes to magazine editing and writing. The professor emeritus at The University of Indiana is probably more famous than the former basketball coach Bobby Knight (well, at least in the magazine circles). I had the pleasure to meet Professor Jacobi in person for the first time at the first children’s magazine editors retreat at Boyds Mill home of the founders of Highlights for Children magazine. We both spoke at the retreat. He talked about writing and I talked about publishing. What follows is Professor Jacobi’s advice regarding successful writing:

To be a successful writer your article must have:
1. The invitation: the lead or the initial tease; it should even hook the reluctant reader
2. The thesis: telling the reader what the article is all about, sort of an early summary. Perhaps a response to the readers expectations.
3. Purpose: the why it is for me “piece of writing.” It is an extended explanation of the purpose of the piece. The purpose must be made evident (another sales pitch).
4. Direction: you must have a sense of clear direction. Every point along the “verbal highway” must set the course… a crystal clear viewable course…you must write with a compass.
5. Propulsion: a sense of motion, going forward. Your writing must have actual movement with pulse and progress.
6. Memory: pleasure of reading should be followed by a sense of recalling. Good writing should give me “something to remember.”

In short, Professor Jacobi said, “the best writing supplies the ties that bind.” And no matter what, read your article aloud”…yes, Jacobi said, “read it aloud and see if it tells a story and keeps you connected.” Great advice from the master himself.


  1. I love Jacobi’s suggestion of reading your writing aloud. I can’t imagine some of the corporate jargon I’ve read being published after it’s read out loud!

  2. […] you heard it, would you print it? October 14th, 2007 Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni, shares great tips for writing well from IU Professor Peter Jacobi. My favorite: […]

  3. Although I met Jacobi for just a few minutes when I was a student at Indiana, his wisdom and books have taught me a lot. Let’s not forget one of Jacobi’s colleagues, Carol Polsgrove. She, I think, is just as talented as Peter.

    These are GREAT writing tips for anyone to follow.

  4. Peter Jacobi is a national treasure in terms of helping people understand what writing can and cannot do. I have been incorporating his inspiration into my teaching at St. John Fisher College. People, in general, settle for bad writing and Jacobi demonstrates why they should not. Thanks, Professor!

  5. I had the pleasure of taking a few classes from Professor Jacobi from 1983 to 1986. He was also my advisor, and an incredibly intelligent, nice and funny person. I can do nothing but agree that Peter Jacobi is a gem!

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