Write Like An Adult
After ten years in the workforce I’ve concluded that:
- a surprising number of adults can’t write,
- the problem is getting worse, and
- I should do something about it.
Like folding laundry or shooting whiskey, writing is something adults ought to be able to do without too much trouble.
Nevertheless, writing is hard. While the mechanics are straightforward, the process usually isn’t.
Mercifully, most writing is transactional and conversational: relaying ideas, managing logistics, and other short-form communication. The longer, harder, stand-alone expositions are often now reserved for special occasions (like hate mail) or are the responsibility of professional writers. (Or, users on medium.com.)
And yet, many adults suck at even basic short-form transactional writing.
Some fault lies in our educational system.
In academia, when writing matters it’s formal, structured, and long-form. Students receive feedback and criticism on essays and exams, and are graded for both content and clarity. But for writing beyond their coursework, students receive virtually no feedback.
What’s more: the Five Paragraph Essay format, a technique deployed several hundred times before students finish puberty, is an unwieldy framework for selling an idea. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is the format of choice for new graduates, and they apply it to almost every piece of writing they deem important; as the adage goes: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
For those of you who weren’t traditionally schooled (or if you’ve plain forgot), here’s what the Five Paragraph Essay looks like.
Paragraph 1: Introduction of your thesis (i.e. What’s your point?)
Paragraph 2: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 3: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 4: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 5: Recapitulation of the thesis with, perhaps, further topics to consider or pre-emptive rebuttals to conflicting evidence.
Or as my grade-school teachers jest: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”
For essay writing, this is sound advice. For transactional writing, this can be wholly counter-productive because outside of academia shorter messages are king. Here is better advice:
This book will explain how.