June 7, 2020

on Written Communication

A friend complimented my writing. She said I “say things that just make sense.” Clearly, this entitles me to offer you all five quick pieces of writing advice.

(1) Making sense in writing is about helping people make sense in their own minds. A lot of writers narrate their own experience of sense-making. I find that less effective than conveying each puzzle piece in a helpful sequence that facilitates your reading brain. In other words, I trust my readers to think and then I try to help.

(2) Whatever the topic, I try to keep my thoughts grounded within concrete dynamics that actually matter in real life. I don’t seek out ideas that seem interesting or relevant but I do try to focus on aspects of real world experiences that affect people profoundly.

(3) Every audience has subgroups within it, and my word choice and phrasing will affect each subgroup differently. Rather than taking two sides in one piece, I try to find the underlying angle that affects everyone, directly or indirectly. I’m not writing to express sympathy; I’m writing to make a point. (Admittedly, the category of prophetic rebuke has a remarkably unifying power all its own. At least, it should.)

(4) The purpose of *public* writing should always be to help people. When you see me criticize someone, it’s probably because I believe that person is hurting others. Ideally, shaming bad behavior is a last resort. Experienced lifeguards don’t yell, “don’t run!“ Experienced lifeguards yell, “walk!“ We highlight the positive alternative as often as possible, but in any case we always aim to make a positive impact.

(5) Teachers say good writing considers topic, audience, and purpose but that only helps students organize their own thinking. Constructing coherence is both elementary and subjective. The Next Level (TM) is transmitting a message successfully from point A to point B. It’s easy to share my own mind. It’s better when I can facilitate your active mental engagement.

I also really enjoy doing this. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you feel encouraged to write down good thoughts more betterly.

Take care...

PS: This is not necessarily advice about *academic* writing. Without question, I am still struggling in that arena.

PPS: Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, and edit.

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