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Friday, February 13, 2015

Using Sentences for Great Arguments and Rhetoric

By:  Peter Giblett


Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers to inform, persuade, or motivate audiences. According to Aristotle "Rhetoric is used to contribute to the decision making of people";  yet to this writer it seems that few people understand the need for argument, and fewer still make use of rhetorical tools correctly.

Effectiveness, Elegance, and Rhetoric

There are many keys to sentence structure.  When you have an important point to get across it is certainly true that your argument must be sufficient, and the words you select should be elegant, or perhaps focused.  The grammar used should be both correct and supportive of the argument and the words used convincing, but the technical elements of language alone are not enough.

Many years ago I read a work by a 19th-century philosopher who was criticising another viewpoint; this work had every element of discussion, argument and rhetoric deployed within it.  This work was more than 100 pages long and I later discovered that the piece being critiqued was only a 16 page pamphlet; which proves that arguing against any idea means that a writer must break down each component and discuss the merits and demerits of each. Perhaps the critique was over-officious, but it is rare to find such analyses in the modern era.

The point of argument or rhetoric is how the position is explained, through precise word selection and sentence structure, but those alone are not enough.  The work needs to feel alive and relevant, not merely the words of a closed volume hidden away in a long forgotten academic archive, but something that impacts the actions that each reader needs to take.

Adding Words to Improve Meaning

Effectiveness and elegance are largely a matter of personal taste and preference and will impact each reader differently. Yet effective writing should anticipate a reader's needs and respond appropriately in this regard.  When sentences convey more information they are more effective than when they convey less, indeed in many ways adding words increases the impact of our sentences and improve our writing. Each should bring ideas into clearer focus by adding explanations or further details that aid the understanding of the reader. Of course, we should avoid needless words, those words that pad without deepening understanding or adding detail, but it is necessary to respond to the situation and provide greater clarity.

Indeed elegance could be described as flowery or emotive words, yet they are not always effective in winning the argument, as the emotive element has to be combined with proof, which may be based on formula or statistics;  where an elegant idea alone may flounder.  It's  one thing expressing an idea prettily and quite another doing it with flair and effectiveness. Emotions can move people, but the mind needs and demands something more; it needs a compelling argument.

Applying Rhetoric

Rhetoric focuses on motive and impact. Rhetorical argument is essentially  a persuasive argument that makes use of the character and reputation of the writer/speaker, appeals to emotion, and applies reason and by logic never contains fluff. It is about ways to grab and hold the attention, while focusing on the problem at hand, of course the language used is sharp and precise in order to empower the point being made.

Elegance and effectiveness enable rhetoric through the use of emphatic and forceful language, it starts with an enthralling headline, speaks with power, uses the relevant amount of emotion and facts.

Have you ever listened to the type of politician that reinforces each point by banging the rostrum? They are attempting to use power to enforce the logic of their argument, hit the right point, and they tweak your emotions, but such tub-thumping rarely has a lasting effect. On the other hand,  Richard Toye suggests "One aspect of Margaret Thatcher's legacy that deserves attention is her use of rhetoric and the way in which, to a great degree, she helped reshape the language of British politics as well as the substance of policy"

Rhetorical Devices

These are words that used in a particular way that aims to convey meaning and persuade:
  • Allusion - reference an event, literary work, or person
  • Amplification - repetition of words or expressions to add emphasis
  • Understatement - make an idea less relevant than it is
  • Analogy - compares different things having similar characteristics
  • Metaphor - compare two things by stating one is like the other
  • Antithesis - makes a connection between two things
  • Metanoia - correct or qualify a statement, perhaps another person's error
  • Epizeuxis - repetition of a single word for added emphasis
  • Epanalepsis - repeats words from the beginning of a sentence at the end




About Peter Giblett

Peter Giblett, is a writer, editor, and moderator and is currently seeking new writing/editing engagements and can be contacted by email at peter@giblett.com.

He has recently created a new blog at http://sticksandstones.postach.io/ and continues to write and moderate for wikinut.





Credits:  Rhetoric Tree:  Peter Giblett



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Corrected Content Respects the Reader

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." ~Collette



Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette stated that most good writers are merciless in their editing. One reason for this is that first drafts are normally the jumbled thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions writers have about the topic and are not ready for publication.

I recently wrote about revising, which is looking at the various components of the article’s structure.

Revising finds the bad passages, redundant sentences, off-topic tangents, conflicting tone, style, and syntax issues.

Even during my draft stages of an article, I try to remember this excellent quote, "So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss

So, if you have revised and restructured your article, it should be ready to publish, right? No, not quite yet, your revision made the structural changes, now you have to check for mistakes – that is editing.

It helps if you process revising as surgery and editing as cosmetic. One is drastic, and the other improves or enhances the content.
 
But Content is King

Too many writers depend only on their content. You have written an engaging story, given your perspective on politics or a social injustice, commented on the latest trend, or researched and linked to an interesting historical time or person.

While all of those can make a good article, you will lose readers if the quality of your editing is poor. Why is that?

• Because readers do not have time for poorly edited articles
• Because there are other writers who tell the same story, just edited better
• Because other writers learn the craft of writing and editing

Writers who rate well, have sterling reviews and generate revenue from their writing do so because they revise and edit correctly. With the competition today, you cannot depend on quick wit, knowledge or your ability to string 1500 words together.

There is content, and then there is corrected content.

Corrected Content Respects the Reader


Simple corrections will improve your article. Corrected content demonstrates that you respect your readers by doing the best job of editing that you can.

When I read badly edited articles, I feel dismissed, and unimportant; like the writer just wanted anything published that day without a thought to the craft of writing.

Editing is the final changes to your revised drafts. Yes, I wrote plural – drafts.  I often write in Word and will use Track Changes for early drafts.  It lets me see the original and my revisions without a final decision on the article.

Since there are no deadlines for many online sites, so you have time to work on your craft and that means multiple drafts for most of us who take writing seriously.

There is a simple formula - write well, edit better. For a comprehensive listing of grammar rules and guidelines, the Guide to Grammar and Writing and Principles of Composition lists over 400 easily corrected writing mistakes.

But I Use Spell Check

In editing, you cannot depend on Word's spell check to find all of the annoying problems. While it is a good beginning, it is limited. For instance, it will not catch homophones, such as:

•    They’re
•    Their
•    There

Spelled correctly, however, they may not be the correct word.

Too Familiar with the Right Words

After writing and revising, you have looked at your writing too long. You know how it is supposed to read, and you will inadvertently read it correctly. For instance, he instead of the or she instead of he, is instead of it or if.

Those are the little, sneaky words that a spell check will not find because they are words, they are just not the right words. Or as Leah McClellan says, “Donut truss spiel chick, these words will get through just find.”

Potato/ Potahto/Tomato/Tomahto: Editing and Proofreading

Editing and Proofreading are similar concepts, regardless of which label you use. The purpose of them is synonymous. It is taking your final draft and looking for the annoying types of mistakes that make your writing look unpolished and unprofessional.

I am frustrated as a reader when there are mistakes that editing and proofreading would resolve. Knowing which type of errors that you typically make means that your editing is specific to the types of problems you have with your writing.



I like what author Jarod Kintz says about the different types of writers, "There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t.”

How many of you read the word “typo” as “type” because that would make sense? The average reader or writer fills in the logical blanks and continues reading.

The better reader judges this as poor writing. The better writer fixes it before they publish it.

Find the Typos, Please

Diligently look for the problem words, grammar, formatting, or other errors you did not correct in your revision. Sometimes a revision will create other issues, for instance, format issues – a too lengthy passage as an example.

Editing can help you see where another sub-heading will correct that problem. Make your article as close to excellent as you can.

If you want to be an above average writer, pay attention, here is your chance to change a bad habit - not editing.

Print Out Your Article – With a Few Twists

We engage with paper differently than we do with a screen. Most studies conclude that we experience heightened attention when we hold the paper in our hands, actively engaging other senses into the reading experience; therefore, it makes sense to edit in print.

Change some elements before you print; it helps you see your writing differently.  Rather than print out your draft in your usual font, size or color, change some things. Modifying other elements before you edit on paper will help you see the problems.




After you have made differences in font, color or spacing, print your article and move away from the computer, so you are not tempted to edit your article as you are reading the printed version.

Edit and Publish or Start Over?

If you find that you are getting articles rejected, or readers comment on the quality of your writing, break up the routine.  Write your article, take a break.  Revise your article.  Take a break.  Finally, edit, take a break and read it aloud.

Make these separate tasks.  Even better?  Do the tasks on separate days.

Each writer needs to think more about Collette’s definition of an author – someone who is not afraid to destroy the components of their article that do not demonstrate good writing abilities, including editing.



Credits

Preview, Proofreading and Reader:  Pixabay.com
Change and Change and Editing on Paper:  Marilyn L. Davis



Friday, February 6, 2015

Grammar shorts: If your sentence is a mess check the verb and rebuild


I remember early on in my studies of grammar when I would have complex sentences and compound structures that would freak me out. The truth about sentences is that they are all simply larger structures that follow the same rules. The only difference is really how we punctuate these sentences which tell us whether we are using sentence modifiers, which are sometime phrases which don`t have a subject + predicate, or clauses that are restrictive or nonrestrictive. The bedrock to any sentence, however, is the verb. Once you find the verb and determine its type you can then walk back and restructure a bad sentence or simply check your own grammar for errors.

Verbs can be tricky at times. I`ll give an example. The VG verb is a two place transitive verb that generally requires an animate indirect object receiving a direct object from the subject in the sentence.

Example:
John sent the roses to his wife.

In this sentence we have the subject John who sends what? Roses (direct object) to whom? His wife (indirect object). Now, the indirect object is in the form a prepositional phrase “to his wife.” The prepositional phrase is adverbial prepositional phrase of reception (who received the roses).

Let`s change the sentence a bit.
John sent some flowers to Atlanta.

This sentence would seem to be another VG two place transitive sentence, right? Not so, because, in this case the prepositional phrase is not only inanimate but is also modifying the verb “sent.” Simply put, the prepositional phrase “to Atlanta” is not an indirect object, it`s modifying the verb sent. Therefore “sent,” in this case, is a normal VT verb (transitive verb). The prepositional phrase “to Atlanta” is an adverb of place, adding additional information to this sentence.

Now, let`s put these sentences together:
John sent roses to his wife and John sent some flowers to Atlanta.

Now let`s make this sentence more concise and simple.
John sent roses to his wife and flowers to Atlanta.

This is a clearer and more concise sentence which has the noun subject as “John,” the transitive verb “sent, the direct object “roses,” and the prepositional phrase “to his wife” (as the indirect object). The word “and” serves as a coordinating conjunction of the noun phrase “flowers to Atlanta” (which has an embedded prepositional phrase “to Atlanta”). This little phrase is a sentence modifier which adds information to the main clause, “John sent roses to his wife…”

I hope you enjoyed “Grammar Shorts.” Short lessons in grammar.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Growing and Shrinking Sentences: The Art of Telling the Story​​



By:  Peter Giblett

According to Professor Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa, "Each sentence we write reflects three main kinds of choices we make: (1) what to write about and what we want to accomplish by writing about it, (2) which words to use, and (3) what order to put them in."

Sequence of Words

How sentences are constructed is fundamental in demonstrating vital concepts and is not just about stringing together a series of words. We know that how we use words and the order in which they are used is vital to convey understanding about any subject you care to select. 

Using the same words in a different order can significantly change the reader's understanding of what is said as the precise order of words conveys an accurate message.  The same is also true when a writer uses a mixture of long and short sentences or indeed when they use various types of sentence. Writers need to re-think how they use sentences and learn to break down artificial boundaries in order to create more imaginative sentences.

Levels of Abstraction

At its most basic a sentence is a proposition, such as:

"I am."

Of course life would be a little mundane if every sentence we  used were of a minimal length; so much of the skill of the writer is not only selecting the words and the sequence they use but to take those words and shape it precisely around the idea that must be conveyed, doing that as neatly and elegantly as possible, extending it when necessary to add detail or when crispness is needed, making it short and staccato.  It is the effectiveness of sentences that is most important. 

·         How effective is the writer at telling the story?  
·         How much do they make the reader think?
·         How much do they challenge the mind?

These questions are vital when considering sentence construction. At school, you were probably told that the ideal length of a sentence was somewhere between 8 and 17 words. Living inside such rigid boundaries does not allow any writer the opportunity to increase the levels of abstraction as dictated by the needs of the prose being generated from the writer's mind. Being able to add new levels to a sentence can, when managed properly, add the necessary level of detail to any writing, without the use of too frequent stops as commanded by a period, or a full stop.

Because we read with our minds, we have trained ourselves to pause at the appropriate times through the aid of commas, semi-colons, and colons.  The problem with a full stop is that it can exit the thought sequence too sharply and abruptly for the prose being followed. The reader has to start again, and then stop. Then they begin again;  rather like the driver accelerating away from one stop sign to encounter another one, almost immediately. Such prose has its purpose, but can also be limiting in terms of getting your message across. 

Adding a new level of abstraction or detail, is about adding a further proposition that either extends the amount of information available to the reader, using a comma, which can show the added details or possibly take the story in a new direction. 

When more detail is being added it is rather like peeling the layers of an onion and describing what is visible - it is possible to represent the whole, then cut through it to the next level, uncovering the component parts, as each phrase goes deeper inside, deeper and deeper until the optimum level is reached. At that point, the writer or reader will have traversed each level and is ready to have the mechanics explained once the point of interest is reached. The skill the writer uses to get here matters greatly.


Action Packed?

One of the general rules we were taught when young was that when there is fast flowing action, such as one of the protagonists, chased by an alien army and fleeing for their life, this passage and idea is best conveyed in short sentences that are quickly read.
Yet it is the rhythm of a cumulative sentence that can take a reader through both fast-paced sections and slower monologs. 

If you think about it, when you use a comma the break is shorter than when using a full stop, with a comma there can be a sharp intake a breath and a half-second pause before the action continues and you can almost feel that character taking that same sharp intake of breath, before continuing to flee for their life, and it is at those short moments it is also possible to change the pace, take a phrase (or more) to outline the options available. 

Is our protagonist blindly running or does she have a plan in mind? This may make all the difference. Indeed repetition can emphasise the predicament they find themselves in and the cumulative syntax in a sentence can be used effectively to create suspense, it is like holding back a crucial fact until the very end of the sentence, such as asking a rhetorical question, answered before it is​ even​ asked.

How Is Information Conveyed? 

No matter what type of writer you are, whether you are writing a novel or a business report, then you have a story to tell. Want your CEO to take your approach to marketing this new product? 

Then you have to tell a story that is compelling, perhaps the only difference between the business report and the novel is that the story in the former is​ generally​ backed up by​ serious​ financial ​or business ​facts and statistical analysis.

How writers craft sentences is a precision skill; they must be elegant yet effective. The order of content, vocabulary, and syntactical choice, all subtly affect how the reader sees the content.  All content must be relevant to each particular audience.  Knowing how sentences build using the phrases, clauses, and propositions into a unified whole are essential to making both the structure work and demonstrate style.

Ultimately when phrases are joined together, they  should flow naturally to create sentences and the sentence should help maintain a smooth flow from one idea or description to another, building into paragraphs that allow the whole story to flow, with the intention of taking the reader through all of the paths necessary to tell the complete story.



Credits:
All images Creative Commons


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is Your Writing To the Point or Long-Winded?



 “Contrary to what some people seem to believe, simple writing is not the product of simple minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both grace and power. By, not calling attention to itself, it allows the reader to focus on the message.”—Richard Lederer


Redundant Writing 101

My apologies to Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English for the following:


Bloated or long-winded writing tends to be extremely redundant or superfluous, unneeded, unnecessary, outdated and outmoded, full of disused or antiquated language; in other words, it is writing using words, phrases, and ideas that do not necessarily help to develop or in any way, shape or form convey the idea of the story, testimony, news report, recipe, article, blog or account that you are creating, writing or thinking about doing, regardless of how much you believe that these additional and extra words, phrases and explanations contained in a single sentence, paragraph or entire article will add value, meaning and a more complete, entertaining, informative reading experience for your readers, not to mention, the added benefit of words that will enhance, improve, augment, and boost the ability of a search engine to find your overly wordy article due to the fact that you have included the additional tags or keywords that you incorporated, fitted into or integrated meaningfully, purposefully, tenaciously and decisively in your sentence, paragraph or article.

Whew, we made it past the example. Everybody, please take a breath.  What is remarkable to me is that the sentence is grammatically correct according to several grammar checkers.

So what?  

The point of writing is to give information to readers.  If they cannot understand what we wrote, the grammar doesn't matter, we failed as a writer, not the reader. 


Why Do People Write More Than Necessary?

Writers use more words than necessary for several reasons:

    Word Count Theory

Some writers think that adding more words will help them meet a word count criteria. 

Valid point, however, if the phrases are just strung together to reach a number, what is the value of the article? Instead, research your topic and add information, not just words.

• Similar Word Theory

Some writers think that using a Thesaurus and writing similar words in each sentence will help them clarify their meaning.

However, if you use the simplest word, you do not have to have other words define it. Readers are looking for information, not an indication of an extensive vocabulary, nor do they have time to look up a word.

• More Words – More Understanding Theory

Some writers think that more words will help clarify their intent. Learn to write concisely - use only the words needed to convey your information.

• “Superior” Words – I am Smart Theory

Some writers think that they can show how intelligent they are with the fifty-cent words.

What often happens is that the writer alienates readers and bores them with pretentious words. It is harder to write in a straightforward manner than to elaborate. A good writer can simplify and still inform or entertain.

Everyday Language: Understood, Informative, Active

 “A word about ‘plain English.’ The phrase certainly shouldn’t connote a boring style. Plain English is typically quite interesting to read. It’s robust and direct—the opposite of pretentious language. You achieve plain English when you use the simplest way of expressing an idea. You can still choose attention-grabbing words. But you’ll avoid fancy ones that have everyday replacements meaning precisely the same thing.” Bryan Garner, from Legal Writing in Plain English
  
The purpose of writing is to communicate information. Each of my niches has language that is specific.  I may know what the jargon means, but I cannot be the only one who understands it, so I have to define the terminology or write in plain English. 

If I am writing about addiction, there may be phrases or concepts that I have to explain to ensure that my readers understand the use of that word within the context of dependency. I might use several other similar words to convey the concept. However, I will only do this once. 

Not out of laziness, lack of intelligence or knowledge about the subject, it is out of respect to the readers.

Reader Comments: The True Test of the Words

If I explained it tightly and directly the first time, then the reader is smart enough to understand the intent and context throughout the article.

However, if I get comments like the following, then I would have to write it more clearly or use other words for a reference:

• “I was unsure about…”
• “Can you clarify…?”
• “What did you mean by…?”
• “Can you explain…?”

I was fortunate that my editor was not familiar with addiction terminology.  Her lack of awareness about the context of certain words prompted me to create the TIERS Glossary of Recovery Terms, which streamlines communication between the facilitator, participant and others in the group, creating a framework of recovery language. 

Familiar language helps focus group time on the important issues of recovery when all participants understand vocabulary.  

But, as a writer, I do not have the luxury of asking another participant to "translate" or rephrase.  I have to make each word count and must make sense to the reader. 

I know if I've written concisely if the comments indicate their new awareness of the subject, or that my words gave them greater understanding of the topic.   

Then I've done my job as a writer. 

When Too Much is Too Much

While I can write about long-winded and pretentious writing, these examples by Rick Walston, exemplify the entire point of this article.

“An ornithological specimen in digital captivity is of greater value than double said specimen in dense foliage.”

    Translation: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Medieval Proverb

“Branches of heavy foliage and jagged geological specimens may fracture my skeletal structure; however, inaccurate syntactical descriptions of my personage, heritage, or personality will never damage my psyche.

    Translation: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” – English Idiom

No, words may not hurt you, but too many or the wrong words can harm your views, revenues, reputation, credibility…oh stop there; the readers get the point.



Image Credits:  
Long-winded word cloud:  Marilyn L. Davis
TIERS Glossary of Recovery Terms: Author: Marilyn L. Davis, art work: Dianne E. Davis