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Marshal Your Argument

Like a genre in publishing, a work forms part of an existing discourse and this creates certain ground rules for how words will be read and ideas conveyed.

Yesterday I took a look at how I write from the technology angle. Today, I want to take a look at language. While I have little English and less of everything else, I trust this will be a piece which should lend itself to other Indo-European languages.

In addition to writing, photography is one of my prime passions. Be the medium film or digital, one technical element abides: resolution. Writing is much the same and when approaching a piece (be it a short post or multi-volume book) I always try and imagine it as several different levels of resolution. The first level of resolution, or macro view, is in what context does the work sit. Much like a genre in publishing, a work is going to form part of an existing discourse and this creates certain ground rules for how words will be read and ideas conveyed.

The next level of resolution is the idea(s) the writer is seeking to convey. While this is commonly conceived of in books and longer pieces, it also abides in short posts. Particularly when a reply turns into a conversation. Thinking about it in this way can either ensure a writer has fully marshalled their argument before launching into the fray, or whether it is better to avoid battle until a better day.

The third level of resolution is the paragraph. It is here that words first come into view and their structuring and juxtaposition is of paramount importance. The golden rule is a paragraph should have one hundred words or ten sentences. While I agree that a paragraph which contains more than one hundred is likely to fall foul of containing too many ideas, or of rambling on and losing the reader, there are many reasons why a paragraph should be shorter. This is evident in the fourth level of resolution, the sentence.

Sentences are the connectors that unite individual words into an idea and can either be gathered together to form a paragraph, or can form a paragraph by standing alone.

Finally, the fifth level of resolution is the word. Words matters because they can either transport the reader or act as a barrier to understanding. Not so much because a word may not be understood, that can always be overcome by the reader turning to the dictionary, but because a reader may become fixated on a particular word to the exclusion of the overarching idea. This feeds back into the first level of resolution, context.

This ordering is the reverse of most of the manuals of style or writing I have read. They instead prefer to begin with the word and build up. While this is the correct order for a reader, who doesn’t know the end when they are at the beginning, a writer needs to know where they are going before they can plot a course for their readers in words.

Good night, and good luck.

This post is day 014 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. If you want to get involved, you can get more info from 100daystooffload.com.

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