Slipping standards

I’d like to apologise for my last post; in fact for a number of posts in this, my new blog. I know that my writing has been slipping recently; it has lacked clarity, flow, conciseness and precision. Consequently I’ve been trying to; a) figure out why and b) how to resolve it.

Last night I was sifting through a few resources I thought might be of general use as my studies unfold, but one seemed particularly relevant:

(You can view or download the video and presentation at JCU by clicking on the image )
(You can view or download the video and presentation at JCU by clicking on the image )

Some of it is more pertinent when writing the whole thesis, but much of it speaks to any form of writing.

Writing with clarity is the key message with which the presentation opens and underpins the approach you should adopt. To do that, you need to constantly keep in mind your audience, or as Dr Tynan suggests, your ‘archetypal reader.’ Imagine yourself reading your writing through their eyes and with their purpose. This was an issue for me from the start of this new blog; a question I only partly answered by choosing to write as a source of reference to which I could later return. Having no other reader in mind made me sloppy; less fastidious. Clarity can slip away when you use long sentences, complex grammar, abstraction or ambiguity. Your reader will struggle because you’re forcing them to interpret your writing, rather than allowing them the pleasure of following your ideas.

Better writing starts then by establishing what the reader needs to know, then drawing up an outline to provide the overarching structure. Paragraphs are the building blocks to construct your essay, with each constituting a ‘unit of thought’ in which you introduce, discuss and elaborate a point. Opening with a ‘theme’ sentence provides a signpost for the reader and introduces your main argument to which subsequent sentences can refer back. In academic writing we often see sentences opening with author’s names, however, it is much better to start with a strong keyword, thereby providing another way to help your reader absorb your message. So we’re seeking coherence in our writing, where paragraphs and the sentences within them are arranged logically to develop arguments in an understandable way for the reader.

So do my previous posts fail to follow the advice that Dr Tynan provides? I’m afraid in many cases that they do, especially the ones where I’m attempting to summarise the contents of a book in a single post. I’m particularly guilty of using abstraction; possibly because that’s what author(s) did and I failed to turn that into meaningful, concrete ideas. I also feel that I’ve not always achieved a coherent structure and flow, perhaps as a result of trying to cram in cherry-picked details, rather than aiming for my interpretations of the big picture. (Was that just another abstraction?).

Readability may not highlight all the issues for a piece of writing, but it does provide a few measures of  the impact your writing might have on readers. I turned then to two online tools1 for assessing writing and pasted in both my last post and this one, to see if I’ve been able to bring about any improvements. The news is good; the average word length, sentence length and particularly readability have all improved. Whether my message has been conveyed with greater clarity is perhaps for you the reader to judge, but you’ve been in my head the whole while.

1Analyse My Writing and the Hemingway Editor


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