The 'write' stuff for the Information Age

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 14, 2017
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Writing skills are more important than ever before.

To be effective in today's society, we need to be able to communicate with purpose, skill and precision. Sadly, too many people regard learning to write as something that begins and ends at school. The truth is that learning to write well is a lifelong journey.

If you want to improve your writing you have to write. Indeed, try to write on a daily basis, whether it's a few lines in a journal, a social media posting, a "letter to the editor" or a commentary, a memo at work, an email message - the list is endless.

Writing is how we tell our personal story and engage with the world. In the words of poet Maya Angelou: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Before starting to write, it is necessary to consider the target audience and purpose. Sometimes even well-educated people fail to take this into account and, as a result, miss the mark.

Related to this is the importance of using both logic and emotion. For example, academics sometimes fail to realize the power of a story and the need to communicate on an emotional and a logical level.

When they encounter resistance, for example, on an emotional level, they will continue to respond with more statistics and evidence on an issue rather than make an emotional appeal that complements their logical argument.

As the poet William Wordsworth wrote: "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." Similar advice comes from Russia's Anton Chekhov: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

We could all benefit from remembering the principles of Aristotle's Rhetoric in which he points out that persuasion is comprised of three major components: logos (logic and rational argument; pathos (emotional appeals) and ethos (persuasion that comes with credibility, for example, reputation and expertise).

Writing that is clear, coherent and persuasive is a by-product of clear and logical thinking. Therefore, one of the best ways to improve one's writing is to learn how to think logically and precisely. This wisdom was captured brilliantly by writer Mark Twain: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter; 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and lightning."

Clear thinking does not occur in the abstract; it requires a context. The stream and flow of ideas is fed especially by what one reads. As novelist Stephen King noted: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

As what to read, I like Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner's advice is to,

"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."

Inspiration comes from action, As novelist Jack London said: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

Good writing is also well organized, imposing an order on the chaos of thought. Like builders, most writers will spend considerable time designing a plan and building the foundations. Most formal writing will have a logical beginning, middle and ending that flow together.

One of the most useful pieces of advice that I received was from my long-time friend, David Gray, a fellow student in law school and, before that, a journalist. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence and each sentence in the paragraph should help develop the idea or theme in that topic sentence.

Each person must work out a process that works for them and seek continuous improvement.

There is no such thing as good writing, but only good re-writing. It worries me that in our 24/7 existence and with the ready availability of social media that we are tempted to let words fly out in a backward rubric of "Fire, Ready, Aim!" This results in miscommunication that is often hurtful and harmful.

It should be clearly understood that writing is hard work. Earnest Hemingway captured this when he noted: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Poet Robert Frost made a similar point in his admonition that: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

Writing skills are more important than ever before. We live in a world of multiple media platforms and a growing number of people who are connected and who can, in turn, connect with groups from all over the world.

This means that good content will be more in demand than ever before. In order to survive and thrive in this new environment, excellent written and oral communication skills are not a luxury, but a necessity.

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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