Writing

How do I write copy? Let me count the ways...

An interesting conversation on LinkedIn in the past couple of days, started by Peter Whent. He posted this headline from MailOnline:

Mail eadlinePeter remarked:

You could have used a copywriter but you chose not to.

The flurry of comments included this from Jonathan Staines:

This headline was written by a journalist in a high-pressured newsroom, not a copywriter. They are two very different types of writing work. A copywriter has more time to compress the message into as few words as possible. News journalists don’t. Trust me, I’m married to one! I’m not suggesting it’s not a very good headline but some poor soul had about 3 minutes to write it.

Which got me thinking. Copywriting and journalism: two very different types of writing work?

Maybe. But we call both 'copy', don't we? And, intriguingly, these two meanings of the word - marketing copy and journalistic copy - arose at roughly the same time.

Rewind to the late nineteenth century.

The telegraph had been invented in 1837. Samuel Morse had developed his famous code in 1838. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. By 1880, journalists were using these new electronic technologies to dictate stories down the line to newspaper offices, where copy-editors would - well - copy them.

The OED lists the first journalistic use of the word 'copy' in 1886, when Oscar Wilde wrote:

Miss Broughton has been attending the meetings of the Psychical Society in search of copy.

And here's George Bernard Shaw, a mere three years later:

Those Socialist speeches which make what the newspapers call ‘good copy'.

The-Front-Page-1928-4
Lee Tracy as Hildy Johnson in The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Image from Wikipedia

Very quickly, this meaning of the word ‘copy’ transferred from journalism to advertising. The first OED listing of the word ‘copy’ meaning the text of an ad first appears in 1905, in a book called Modern Advertising:

The design and 'copy' used in the four-inch advertisement may involve just as much time.

Note the scare quotes around the word: obviously still a novel usage at this point.

For the rest of the twentieth century, these two senses of the word 'copy' continued, more or less separately and in parallel. Journalists wrote copy but not, on the whole, advertisements; copywriters wrote marketing copy but not, on the whole, news stories. (Both, of course, wrote headlines.)  David Ogilvy and the Mad Men of the 1950s probably never wrote articles - although Ogilvy's famous long copy for Rolls Royce bears a superficial resemblance to one.

But over the last twenty-five years, electronic media and the internet - the descendants of the telegraph and the telephone - have merged these two streams; the resulting turbulence has generated a whole host of different kinds of copy.

Call it 'content'.

Copywriters now produce press releases and advertorials, instructional guides and case studies, blog posts and thought leadership - all of which demand journalistic skills. They also write social media posts and tags, and even - yes, indeed - ads.

I suspect that journalists are also increasingly having to write copy that draws on the skills of marketing. Who writes the teaser copy on a newspaper's website? The standfirst that invites the reader into an article? The tweets and LinkedIn posts promoting their latest column, or the blurb on the back cover of their latest book?

We're all writers, and we're all doing different kinds of writing work. The top skill required of copywriters in 2024? I'd say: versatility.

I work as a copy editor, proofreader, and training consultant. I run CIM's Copywriting Masterclass.  Book your place here.

 


Writing essays #3: writing the introduction

This post is based on material from my new book, Essay Writing Explained

Essay_Writing_Explained_Cover

Students I work with often tell me that they find introductions hard to write. We all know that an essay's introduction must be enticing and intriguing. Your tutor or examiner is reading dozens – maybe hundreds – of essays, often on exactly the same topic.  How are you going to make them sit up and take notice? 

You might think that you have to write your introduction before you write anything else.

Well: you don't.

Write the essay first. Then write the introduction.

(That's why this is the third post in this series.)

Five introductions to avoid

To begin with, don’t do what everyone else does. 

Here are five types of introduction that tutors and examiners see frequently.  These are the introductions guaranteed to make their hearts sink.  Avoid them.

The ‘filler’ introduction

This is the kind of introduction that simply fills the space with generalised, more or less meaningless sentences.  It’s like clearing your throat before saying anything worthwhile. 

Tragedy has been a common form of drama in many different societies.  There have been many different kinds of tragedy.  Mostly, tragedy has been a dramatic form, although some novels can    also count as tragedies.

  Michael-Gambon-as-Krapp-in-the-Gate-Theatre-production-of--Krapp-s-Last-Tape--by-Samuel-Beckett--Photo-Pat-Redmond

 

 

 

 

The ‘restated question’ introduction

This introduction restates the question you’ve been set.  Whoever wrote the essay question presumably knows what the question is; they don’t need you to remind them.

Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ contains elements of both comedy and tragedy.  Many    commentators and critics have different opinions about whether comedy or tragedy is the most    important element of the play, and few have come to any agreement. It is important to try to    understand whether the play is more of a comedy or more of a tragedy.

Clarifying the question can be a useful strategy as part of your introduction, as we’ll see.  But simply restating it and going no further is inadequate; the introduction can, and should, do more to draw the reader in to your essay.

Pinter

 

 

The ‘book report’ introduction

This introduction gives the details of the book (or play, or country, or historical figure, or chemical element, or equation) that you’re discussing.  Perhaps essay writers use this kind of introduction because it reminds them of the book reports they wrote in junior school; it feels comfortable. 

Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ was performed first at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 28 October 1958.  It starred Patrick Magee, was directed by Donald McWhinnie and ran for 38 performances.  

This introduction tells the reader what they probably already know.  It doesn’t lead them towards your thesis statement. In fact, it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Krapp-s-last-tape

 

 

 

The ‘tell-em’ introduction

Some textbooks advise essay writers to tell the reader what you propose to do in the essay.  The same textbooks will probably then tell you to do it in the middle part, and use the conclusion to say what you’ve done. 

This is the famous ‘tell’em’ principle: 

  •  tell’em what you’re going to tell ‘em;
  • tell ‘em; and then
  • tell ‘em you’ve told ‘em. 

 As with restating the question, signalling your intentions – and the structure of the essay – is a useful strategy.  After all, it’s what the blueprint in your thesis statement is doing: indicating how you propose to answer the question.  But on its own, the ‘tell ‘em’ principle is boring.  And, as the opening sentence in your introduction, it’s deadly.

In this essay, I shall attempt to show that elements of comedy outweigh elements of tragedy in Samuel Beckett’s play, ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’.

(Attempt to show, by the way, is another killer.  Only attempt?  How confident and interested does that make your reader feel?  For the same reason, avoid saying: hopefully, this essay will demonstrate...)

Krapp-5

 

 

 

The ‘dictionary definition’ introduction

 Essay after essay starts by defining a key word in the question.  Thousands of students resort to this tactic.  Their intentions are good:  defining a key word shows that you’ve read the question (or at least, that you’ve read that word), and that you’ve read a book (even if it’s only a dictionary).  And an important part of your argument may be to challenge the received definition of a term. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘tragedy’ as “a play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character, with a fatal or disastrous conclusion: opposite to comedy.”

Anyone can look up a word in a dictionary.  And a dictionary definition probably doesn’t take into account the context in which you’re discussing the word. 

I’m not saying you shouldn’t examine the definitions of terms in the question; and I’m not saying you shouldn’t offer one or more definitions of key terms in your essay.  (Different thinkers may have defined a term in different ways, for example.)  I am saying that you shouldn’t do this in your very first sentence.

105781-krapp-01

 

 

The ‘dawn-of-time’ introduction

This kind of introduction makes sweeping generalisations about the topic, mostly unrelated to the thesis statement.  Maybe writers feel that this is a way of drawing your reader into the essay, like a long, slow zoom in at the start of a movie.

Since the start of recorded history, men have stood on stages before large audiences and acted out the sad stories of their times.

 In fact, this kind of introduction is as much of a cliché as the (intentional) cliché that opens Star Wars

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away...

Avoid clichés - like the plague, I was going to say!

Krapp4



Structuring your introduction: SPQR

The best way to set about writing your introduction is to create a mini-plan. 

The basic plan of any introduction is a sequence, leading your reader from where they are, and what they know, to where you want them to be, and what you want to tell them.  The most important thing you want to tell them, of course, is your thesis statement, so this sequence should end with that. 

In its basic form, this sequence has four stages.  You can remember it using the letters SPQR.  If you’re a historian, you’ll know that this is the motto of the Roman Empire.  If you’re not, you now know that these letters stand for Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (‘the senate and people of Rome’).  They are a good way of remembering the sequence of an introduction.

SPQR_Column_

 
 

 

SITUATION

What’s the first thing you can say about your topic that your reader will know to be true?  The Situation statement is unremarkable, uncontroversial, a ‘truth universally acknowledged’.

PROBLEM

What has arisen within the situation to complicate it?  Perhaps something has gone wrong, or a disagreement has arisen, or new developments have altered the situation in some way.

The Problem leads to a:

QUESTION

This, of course, is the question you have been asked: your essay question.  Sometimes, analysing the Question helps you backtrack to the appropriate Problem.  Ask:  ‘Why has this question arisen?’

RESPONSE

Your answer to the question is your thesis statement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, here’s an example of an introduction modelled on the SPQR sequence.  It opens an essay answering the question:

Discuss the causes of stereotyping in the mass media.  To what extent do they influence social attitudes?

[Situation] Stereotypes are extremely common in British society. Nationality and race, class, gender and sexual orientation are all subject to limited and rigid social descriptions.  [Problem] These stereotypes have historically been perpetuated in the mass media, particularly in the tabloid press and television, where situation comedy has often depended on stereotypes for its effects. [Question]  Sociologists have gathered evidence for this process, and examined its causes.[Response: thesis statement]  The most prominent cause of stereotyping appears to be the need for media owners to mirror the values of their target markets.  Through market research, intervention in the creative process and audience evaluation, the mass media can be seen to reinforce already existing stereotypes and perpetuate them.

Notice that the SPQR sequence ends with your thesis statement.

Ah yes. The thesis statement. You do have a thesis statement, don't you?

If not, please go back to this post.

Structuring your introduction: The Four Moves Model

A variation on the SPQR model was developed by John Swales, a British linguist who has worked at the University of Michigan since 1985.  In his book, Genre Analysis, published in 1990, Swales identifies four moves that academics typically make in introducing their papers. 

Swales_Stamp

 

 

 

This sequence has become known, unsurprisingly, as the Four Moves model. 

  1. Establish the field that you’re writing about, and show why this topic is interesting or important.
  2. Now review and summarize the published research literature – or at least, the research that you’ve studied, and the research that is most relevant to your topic.
  3.  Show that this research is missing something. Create a research space or an interpretative space for your own essay.
  4. Present your thesis statement as a useful answer to fill that research space.

Here’s a simple example of a Swalesian introduction.  (Thanks to Rao, Chanock and Krishnan for inspiration here.)  The essay question is:

What can be done to reverse the loss of ‘social capital’ in developed societies?

[Move 1] As countries develop from rural, locally organised societies towards urban centralisation, social capital – the networks, values and norms linking individuals within communities – is increasingly lost.  [Move 2] Sociologists such as Smithfield and Grigson have documented the increasing incidence of loneliness, mental illness and family break-up that results in newly urbanised societies. (Smithfield, 2003; Grigson, 1999)  [Move 3] As yet, however, little research has been done to investigate how such a loss of social capital can be curbed or reversed.  [Move 4] This essay examines three examples of projects aiming to restore social communities in London, Nairobi and Adelaide.  It concludes by arguing that new models of social cohesion are needed to reflect the diversity of modern urban societies.  

You should complete your introduction by stating your thesis statement in full.  The introduction thus ends with your precise claim and a signal of the structure of your essay.

Hooking the reader: writing the first sentence

Once you have a strong structure for your introduction, you can open it with a ‘hook’; a sentence that will catch the reader’s attention and make them want to read on.

Hook

 

You’ve a number of options.  You could start with a bald, striking statement of fact.  You could give a vivid example or illustration of your thesis statement.  You could quote someone who said something controversial.  You could offer a puzzling or ambiguous example.  You could tell a (very brief) story.  You could even ask a question.

Whatever you decide to do, try to find an opening sentence that you can be sure nobody else will offer.  Of course it should be relevant and true; but it should also be striking and arresting.

 

 

For more, check out Essay Writing Explained.

Essay_Writing_Explained_Cover

 


Writing essays #2: concluding well

This post is based on material from my e-book, Essay Writing Explained.

Essay_Writing_Explained_Cover

Your essay's conclusion should make your reader feel that they've arrived. It should say: look, everything here makes sense.  Everything fits together. 

And, if possible, it should do something more. Your conclusion should say: everything here points to a new thought: one you, the reader, may not have thought before. 

That new thought needn’t be earth-shattering or radical; but it should be a valuable answer to the question you’ve been set.

So: how to create a conclusion?

Well: answer the question, to start with.  Answer it explicitly.  Summarise the argument you've presented and re-present the key points that support it.   

Your answer to the essay question doesn’t have to be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.   In fact, many questions will be framed to stop you answering so simply. 

For example, the question might ask: To what extent...?   It might ask: In what ways do...  differ? 

And sometimes, even when the question does seem to invite a ‘yes-or-no’ answer, you might choose to answer: Maybe.   

Or: It depends.   

Or: Only in certain circumstances.   

As long as your argument coherently supports that answer, and your conclusion states your answer clearly, you have fulfilled your brief.   You’ve answered the question.   

How not to conclude X4

Students tend to write ready-made conclusions as often as prefabricated introductions.   Here are four common conclusion types to avoid.  I'm assuming that the essay question is:

"Is Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape comic or tragic?"

The ‘that’s all folks’ conclusion

Thats-all-folks-7172-1280x800

 

 

 

This conclusion simply restates the essay’s thesis.   It tends to be painfully short: the reader feels that the essay, rather than concluding, has just – stopped.

In conclusion, ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ contains more elements of tragedy than of comedy.

This conclusion feels abrupt because the reader needs to feel that they are being taken forward, into new territory.   

The ‘whodunit’ conclusion

Dare_devil_detective_stories_194201

 

 

 

 

 

 

This conclusion states the thesis for the first and only time in the essay.   The wording might be similar to the ‘that’s all folks’ conclusion; the only difference is that we haven’t read it until we reach the final paragraph.

The writer might feel, not unreasonably, that they don’t want to give away their big idea until the very end; that they need to keep the reader reading to the last page, as in a detective story, to find out ‘who did it’.   Your tutor, however, doesn’t want to read a thriller (at least, not while they’re reading your essay); they’re expecting an argument in academic style, with the thesis stated at the start.   

The ‘I have a dream’ conclusion

Ihaveadream-word-cloud_606

 

 

 

This conclusion depends on emotion to make its mark.   

‘Krapp’s Last Tape’, then, in its profoundly tragic view of an individual’s meaningless existence, affects us deeply with the rage, pity and horror that accompany any witnessing of a life wasted, urging us to find new meaning in our lives and encompass the true joy that can emerge from living every moment of our lives to the full.

Very heartfelt, perhaps.   Deeply moving, possibly.   Analytical, thoughtful and coolly rational – hardly.   

The ‘and another thing’ conclusion

  Jeremy-clarkson-cunt

 

 

 

 

This conclusion suddenly drags in material found nowhere else in the essay.   Maybe the writer feels they should include some important stuff, but they couldn’t fit it into their argument.   

As well as being profoundly tragic, ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ also illustrates the influence of modern recording technology on theatrical practice, and an extension of the use of domestic furniture in stage design.

An essay that may have been well organized ends with a confusing surprise.

How to conclude X1

Ok.  That's how not to conclude.  Four times.

So: what makes a good conclusion?

It's a bridge.  A good conclusion guides your reader out of your essay, back into the wider world. 

Your conclusion gives you the last word.   It allows you to summarize your argument and tell the reader why it matters.   It can point the reader towards further implications or new ideas; you could use it to mention wider issues, or to elaborate on the importance of your argument.   It’s also, of course, your opportunity to make a good final impression.

Your conclusion can take your reader beyond the confines of the question you’ve answered.   In your conclusion, you can mention wider issues, make new connections, and elaborate on the significance of your findings.   The conclusion should help your reader see something differently.

For more, download my e-book, Essay Writing Explained.

Essay_Writing_Explained_Cover

 

 


Essay Writing Explained: get the ebook

Essay Writing Explained is one of my ebooks available from Bookboon.

Essay_Writing_Explained_Cover
Writing an essay means more than finding and recording facts. You need to think critically: analysing material and reaching a conclusion. It means showing that you understand the material you’ve been studying. Above all, it means presenting a coherent argument.

If you’re at high school, college or university, you’ll need to write essays - even if you're studying maths or a science. But learning to write essays also prepares us for life beyond college. In the real world, more and more of us need to be able to express ideas clearly, with good grammar and a flexible style. Essay writing gives us the skills to become more effective citizens.

How do you start? What kind of words should you use? Are you entitled to offer your own views on a subject?

Essay Writing Explained will help you produce an essay that your tutor will appreciate, and that will do you credit.

Here are a few reviews from the Bookboon website.

apple ★★★★★

A very insightful yet practical book for every writer. Thanks.

Idris Osman ★★★★★

Good book. It gives you a clear idea about how to write an essay.

Antonio Mouraz Miranda ★★★★★

One more book to help foreigners to write in English!

Karina Vieira ★★★★★

Very useful! Language is very simple and clear.

Doris J. Marshall ★★★★★

Writing an essay may be easy, but not everyone finds it the same way. Having to read this one, I have found some great ways on how to create an organized and perfect result.

Take a look at Essay Writing Explained.

 


Order out of chaos: speechwriting under pressure

ESN
Most speeches are written to tight deadlines. But some deadlines are tighter than others. At the Brilliant Communicators’ conference run by the
European Speechwriters’ Network on 18 November, we were given a rare insight into the challenges of crafting a speech in truly exceptional circumstances.

MolofskyJosh Molofsky currently works at the American embassy in London. Back in 2020, he was speechwriter for Chuck Schumer, Democrat and Minority Leader of the US Senate. In late December that year, Schumer paid tribute to Josh’s skills: “every day,” he said in a speech on the floor of the Senate, he “bring[s] poetry and organization to my thoughts.”

Two weeks later, Josh would need to do all that and more.

6 January 2021. Late afternoon. At about 2pm, the Senate had gone into emergency recess as rioters stormed the Capitol. Now, four hours later, order was being restored. Schumer, holed up at Fort McNair, had only limited knowledge of what had happened inside the Capitol. With events still unfolding, he would have to address the reconvened Senate – and about 40 million people watching on television. It was Josh’s job to find the words.

He had 45 minutes.

His thoughts turned to the ancient Greek creation myth. Out of chaos, order. Not just the usual chaos of thoughts, feelings and images inside any writer’s head as they set to work, but the terrifying chaos of an insurrection against the orderly administration of a democracy.

So: did he make a plan?

“Not at all,” Josh told me afterwards. “It entirely emerged as I worked. When you’re up against a deadline as tight as this one, you don’t have time to sketch things out. You know you simply have to begin, and hope that one item will flow to the next. That’s what happened here.”

Here’s Josh’s own account of what he wrote, together with the words as Schumer finally spoke them in the Senate.

(You can watch Schumer delivering the speech here.)

Schumer

1: Set the context.

Somewhere in the background, I suspect that the elements of a classical oration are informing Josh's thinking. First, the exordium: establish the speaker's credibility – hence the personal references at the very beginning –  and announce the purpose of your speech. Josh needs to find, in his words, "a common term": a way of contextualising this event for the audience. What’s just happened is unprecedented. Trumpism itself is unnervingly ahistorical. So, Josh looks to the past.

It is very, very difficult to put into words what has transpired today. I have never lived through, or even imagined, an experience like the one we have just witnessed in this Capitol. President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Dec. 7, 1941, as a day that will live in infamy. Unfortunately, we can now add Jan. 6, 2021, to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.

2: What happened?

Now, the narratio: tell us what happened. Paint a picture. This is enargia: what Richard Lanham calls “vigorous ocular demonstration”. By ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ the events in their minds' eye, the audience becomes more deeply involved, not only cognitively but emotionally.

But Schumer’s words need to do more. After all, his audience have been watching actual images of the riot all afternoon. So Josh subtly frames these events within a wider, deeper narrative.

“I’m a big believer in ‘word strings’," he said: "the use of similar terms throughout a paragraph to create a sense of coherence for the listener.” That sense of coherence is generated imaginatively: the word strings generate meaning by creating networks of associations. Here, the words ‘temple’, ‘desecrated’, ‘hallowed’, ‘shelter’ evoke the ancient idea of a sacred space polluted (in this case, literally – people defecated on the Senate floor).

“I reached for these terms because they have a very biblical significance,” Josh told me. “Schumer and I are both Jewish, and when you talk about temples being desecrated, we think of Chanukkah, a holiday about the Temple of David being destroyed, and more importantly, being re-consecrated. That’s what this speech was trying to do: re-consecrate or re-dedicate Congress to its rightful purpose.”

These word strings operate at the speed of light. Look at that word ‘stalk’, which transforms the rioters into monsters from the underworld – or maybe George Romero’s Living Dead. A single word sparks a direct imaginative connection, flashing in under the radar of rational thought.

This temple to democracy was desecrated, its windows smashed, our offices vandalized. The world saw Americans' elected officials hurriedly ushered out because they were in harm's way. The House and Senate floors were places of shelter until the evacuation was ordered, leaving rioters to stalk these hallowed halls. Lawmakers and our staffs, average citizens who love their country, serve it every day, feared for their lives. I understand that one woman was shot and tragically lost her life. We mourn her and feel for her friends and family.

And then the images are objectified, so that we can reflect on them. Like Greek heroes, we feel shame and dishonour.

These images were projected for the world. Foreign embassies cabled their home capitals to report the harrowing scenes at the very heart of our democracy. This will be a stain on our country not so easily washed away – the final, terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States, undoubtedly our worst.

3: Name the villains and heroes.

We're moving on to the confirmatio, sometimes referred to as the 'proof'. Who’s responsible for this outrage? The perpetrators must be – if not named – at least defined.

He signals his intention by saying what they can’t be called. Then he turns - consciously or not – to synonymia: “the use of several synonyms together,” according to the trusty Silva Rhetoricae website, “to amplify or explain a given subject or term.” Synonymia “adds emotional force or intellectual clarity”, and “often occurs in parallel fashion.” As it does, more or less, here: check out the three-part list of paired definitions.

I want to be very clear: Those who performed these reprehensible acts cannot be called protesters – no, these were rioters and insurrectionists, goons and thugs, domestic terrorists. They do not represent America. They were a few thousand violent extremists who tried to take over the Capitol building and attack our democracy. They must and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law – hopefully by this administration, if not certainly by the next. They should be provided no leniency.

The enemy is nameless. The heroes, in contrast, are named.

Pelosi
I want to thank the many of the Capitol Hill police and Secret Service and local police who kept us safe today, and worked to clear the Capitol and return it to its rightful owners and its rightful purpose. I want to thank the leaders, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate. It was Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy and myself who came together and decided that these thugs would not succeed, that we would finish the work that our Constitution requires us to complete in the very legislative chambers of the House and Senate that were desecrated but we know always belong to the people and do again tonight.

There is, of course, one name still to be spoken.

And Josh holds that name back.

“I wasn’t quite ready to say the President was entirely to blame,” he told me; “it was happening too quickly. Hence the ‘great deal’ and ‘in good part’.”

Plenty of rhetorical devices here: opening the section, again, with a negation (‘did not happen spontaneously’, echoing ‘cannot be called protestors’); anaphora ­– three times ‘the president’ rings out, three times he is accused; the antithesis between ‘discourages’ and ‘encourages’; the three-part lists that pepper this section of the speech. And the rising sense of outrage is pulled under control with the resonating references back to shame and the judgement of history.

“I’d never have used the word ‘demagogic’,” said Josh, “if Schumer hadn’t used it with me on one of our phone calls leading up to the speech. Whenever I had even a hint of his thinking, I made sure it found the way into the speech, like a signpost.”

But make no mistake, make no mistake, my friends, today's events did not happen spontaneously. The president, who promoted conspiracy theories and motivated these thugs, the president who exhorted them to come to our nation's capital, egged them on – who hardly ever discourages violence and more often encourages it – this president bears a great deal of the blame. This mob was in good part President Trump's doing, incited by his words, his lies. This violence, in good part his responsibility, his ever-lasting shame. Today's events certainly – certainly – would not have happened without him. Now, January 6 will go down as one of the darkest days in recent American history. A final warning to our nation about the consequences of a demagogic president, the people who enable him, the captive media that parrots his lies and the people who follow him as he attempts to push America to the brink of ruin.

Listen to the way Schumer exploits that last phrase: it’s at 4.47 in the YouTube clip. “I used to keep track of the words that sang in his Brooklyn accent,” said Josh. “The way he pronounces ru-in with two distinct syllables always stood out to me.”

4: Point the way forward.

The peroration was the hardest part to write. (It often is.)

Peroration
“I needed to find an emotional core to organise around,” Josh told us.

He tries to plug into his feelings of heartbreak and turns for inspiration to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, in 1861: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Schumer rejects it. Too soft.

Josh tries again, this time channelling anger. He attempts a homily: more enargia, in an effort to embed the horrors of the day in the audience’s memory.

Three hours after the attack on January 6th, after the carnage and mayhem was shown on every television screen in America, President Trump told his supporters to ‘remember this day forever.’ I ask the American people to heed his words: remember this day forever. But not for the reasons the president intends. Remember the panic in the voices over the radio dispatch; the rhythmic pounding of fists and flags at the chamber doors. Remember the crack of the solitary gunshot; the hateful and racist Confederate Flag flying through the halls of our Union; the screams of the bloodied officer crushed between the onrushing mob and a doorway to the Capitol, his body trapped in the breach…

And so on.

Schumer rejects it. Too hard. And why tell the audience to remember? It's far too early to forget.

Time is running out.

Last throw. What to do?

Look forward.

As we reconvene tonight, let us remember, in the end all this mob has really accomplished is to delay our work by a few hours. We will resume our responsibilities now, and we will finish our task tonight. The House and Senate chambers will be restored good as new and ready for legislating in short order. The counting of the electoral votes is our sacred duty. Democracy's roots in this nation are deep, they are strong. And they will not be undone ever by a group of thugs. Democracy will triumph, as it has for centuries.

“I can tell I wrote this quickly,” Josh explained, “because of the verb/noun pairings. The verb I want for the second sentence is 'uproot' but it’s so similar to the first that I opt for 'undone', which is something you can do to democracy but not its roots. Too late to fix, though!"

(My own view, for what it’s worth: ‘uproot’ or ‘tear out’ would have worked fine. If you set up a metaphor, follow it through. Subtly, of course.)

“This was an intensely political speech,” Josh told me. “I was supremely aware of the many audiences this speech needed to address or mollify.

“The first few paragraphs are written for a national audience – straight down the middle.

“The next two are written for the Democratic base, our most important source of political support. The fellow Republican leaders are named in gratitude as an olive branch to the centre-right.

“And the close goes back to the general audience.

“There has to be enough for everyone to say, ‘Ok, he sees it a bit like I do.’ Sometimes, you have to select the audience for the message you want them to pay attention to. Hence that tactic: ‘to my fellow Americans…’  I wanted to tell them that whatever message was about to come next was intended just for them.

“I was really writing to myself. But also to everyone who felt like I did that day.”

So, to my fellow Americans who are shocked and appalled by the images on their televisions today and who are worried about the future of this country, let me speak to you directly: The divisions in our country clearly run deep, but we are a resilient, forward-looking and optimistic people, and we will begin the hard work of repairing this nation tonight. Because here in America we do hard things. In America, we always overcome our challenges.

‘Hard things’ echoes, deliberately or otherwise, Kennedy’s 1962 ‘We choose to go to the moon’ speech. But this is a sober ending: no attempt to rouse or enthuse; rather, a sense of gritty determination and quiet optimism.

For me, the real achievement of this speech is that Josh trusts his imagination and intuition to guide him. ("Well, yes," he conceded; "and years of speechwriting experience.")

Pence McConnell
Unlike Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell, who spoke before him – you can see their tight-lipped speeches here and here – Schumer frames the appalling events of January 6 in a wider context that offers the reassurance of meaning in the face of the incomprehensible.

Just as Josh intended: order out of chaos.

And what did he learn from this experience? “Focus on the facts,” he replied. “What you’re writing is the first draft of history.”

To enjoy more insights from fellow speechwriting professionals, join the European Speechwriter Network and book a place at one of their conferences.

ESN


Why should you book onto CIM's Copywriting Masterclass?

I'll tell you why.

And you can book a place here.

I always try to take away just one new thing from every course that I attend; I feel that I’ve learned so much on this one. Definitely taking away more than one! Vlatka Lake, Space Station

Your course was extremely helpful and ignited my passion for writing. In fact, you have given me some confidence, which is something that has always been an issue for me. Everything I learned from this course will most definitely be take on board. Thank you very much. Jane Smith [pseudonym], freelance copywriter

I have a new hero. His name is Alan Barker. As the Course Director of  CIM's 'virtual' copywriting masterclass, he has given me the most wonderful writing advice over the past two days. I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you, sir. Paul Bingley, Freelance aviation expert

One of the best training courses I ever did - I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their overall communication but also critical thinking skills. A really fun, progressive and insightful few days! Sign up! John McCarrick, Policy & Communication, amfori

I've also written posts about copywriting here, here , and here.

 


Kairos Online: a new portfolio of courses

Here's my new portfolio of online courses.

Download Kairos_Online_prospectus_June2020_v5

The schedule runs till August, at which point it will almost certainly grow.

 


Mixing method and experience: 'Leading Lines' by Lucinda Holdforth

Holdforth

Leading Lines

Lucinda Holdforth

HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd (6 Feb. 2020)

ISBN-10: 1460757297

ISBN-13: 978-1460757291

 

 

There are, broadly, two types of speechwriting book. There are manuals offering a systematic method, the most celebrated of which, currently, is probably Richard Lehrman’s The Political Speechwriter’s Companion. And there are the memoirs of speechwriters, most of them, according to Lucinda Holdforth in her new book, “laments over totally failed speechwriting relationships.”

Leading Lines sits – quite comfortably, in fact – between these two camps. Dr Holdforth herself is no failure: she’s worked at the highest political and corporate levels in her native Australia. She knows whereof she speaks.

And she’s produced a real page-turner.

Leadership, she says, is changing.

“During my own long career I have witnessed the emergence of new, non-elected leaders with tremendous overt or hidden politician influence, for better or worse. The most significant of these have been corporate leaders.”

She cites, too, the rise of advocacy groups, charitable organisations, and “new leaders … from previously untapped and sometimes unlikely sources”, all of whom need to speak well. In fact, she’s said elsewhere,

“when any individual gives a speech, they become a leader. They have the precious opportunity to lead their listeners to a new attitude or understanding or insight.”

To reverse the logic: giving a speech inevitably makes a leader of the speaker.

Politicians usually have an implicit understanding of the need to harness the power of rhetoric. But “words do not have the same automatic positive connotations for corporate types,” writes Dr Holdforth. CEOs tend to see communication as “an unpleasant addition to their job, rather than central to its execution.” But, she says, “if you want to lead, you have to persuade. If you want to persuade, then you will need to give speeches.” You may need a speechwriter to help you. Leading Lines is aimed at both speechwriters and speechmakers (though, in truth, I wonder how many will find it).

Speeches themselves are increasingly taking on a life beyond the podium. They’re now broadcast through a host of channels; indeed, “this wide dissemination is one reason why a great speech is such a valuable investment: it becomes a driving and unifying communication tool.”

In this wider environment, they become subject to new pressures and constraints. Dr Holdforth goes as far as to say – echoing Mark Thompson in his book Enough Said – that “political correctness has been a disaster for plain speaking and public discourse.” She notes an increasing scepticism among audiences:

“Anyone who takes on a traditional leadership role in the modern world comes up against a wall of cynicism – legitimate cynicism.”

As she sees it, the way to deal with both challenges – the well-meaning but baroque obfuscations, and the jeering hostility that they so often provoke – is to focus on argument.

Lucinda-Holdforth-1
Finding the argument is at the heart of her strategy when working with a speaker. Many of her business clients give her what they see as a speech structure; she recognises it as “a record of their thinking process, culminating in the main message. The task of the speechwriter is to flip the order, and make sure the main message is up the front and structures the entire speech.”  

“A leader’s speech works best as the resolve product of thinking, not a record of the thinking process. The voice of reason has an integrity and a sense of resolution… Speechwriting is no a transcription services, but a creation service. The words don’t just reflect an idea; very often, they also shape and crystallise it.”

Here is a rhetorician boldly reasserting the centrality of what Cicero called invention in rhetorical practice. “This clarity of writing,” she says, “is about more than just a modern and mobile style. It is a form of ethics.” Rhetoric without argument is facile and trivial. But we who value rhetoric, she says, must not succumb to despair in the face of Etonian classical allusions or incoherent ranting.

“The answer to rhetoric that we don’t like … is … not less rhetoric, it’s more and better rhetoric.

And what makes it better is a focus on argument. Everything in a speech – the speaker’s authority, the stories they tell, the emotions they conjure – everything derives from their core argument.

Dr Holdforth invokes Barbara Minto: she of the famous Pyramid Principle, born of McKinsey and now ubiquitous in the corporate universe, if still rarely followed. Too many corporate communications managers, for instance, supply speechwriters with lists of bullet points described as the ‘outline’ of a speech. “Joining the dots,” writes Dr Holdforth, “just creates a list of ideas, not an argument.”

A leader’s argument must also address the beliefs and values underlying their audience’s cynicism. “Any thorough argument,” she writes, “must increasingly go back to basics and question the underlying assumptions” – and she invokes Stephen Toulmin’s warrant-based model of argumentation to support her thesis.

Leaders, of course, must also tell stories. Dr Holdforth sees that stories supply our deep need for meaning, so any story that the leader tells must knit with a robust argument to supply that meaning.  She points out, strikingly, that the argument will often itself supply the emotion that lifts a speech. “Clients tell me they want their speech to have stories with passion,” she writes, “as if passion were an ornament that you could paste on any old speech draft, rather than the intellectual energy driving and shaping it.”

She’s particularly good on ceremonial speeches. “Many of us,” she writes, “live in a lonely and godless world, and we hunger for ceremonies that lend significance to our days.” But, in fact, “few occasions reveal deep, underlying divisions and discord more than a ceremonial event.” The job of a ceremonial speech, then, is not so much to generate energy as to channel the energy already in the room: “to tap into that energy and reflect it back to the audience.” The speaker should remind us “why we love each other despite our flaws, and stick together despite our differences.” The speech, she says, “becomes a form of communion.”

So, in this new book, Lucinda Holdforth supplies a rich mix of method and experience. Where Lehrman’s book is like taking a training course, Leading Lines is like an apprenticeship. If you’re a professional speechwriter, buy two copies: one for yourself and one for your speaker. (Bookmark the opening of Chapter 4 for their attention.)

Keep it close at hand; you’ll find yourself coming back to it. Leading Lines is a book that just keeps giving.


Arguing with passion

Leading Lines Holdforth

Lucinda Holdforth

HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd, 2019

ISBN-10: 1460757297

ISBN-13: 978-1460757291

There are, broadly, two types of speechwriting book.

There are manuals offering a systematic method, the most celebrated of which, currently, is probably Richard Lehrman’s The Political Speechwriter’s Companion.

And there are the memoirs of speechwriters, most of them, according to Lucinda Holdforth in her new book, “laments over totally failed speechwriting relationships.”

Leading Lines sits – quite comfortably, in fact – between these two camps. Dr Holdforth, be it said at once, is no failure: she’s worked at the highest political and corporate levels in her native Australia. She knows whereof she speaks.

And she’s produced a real page-turner.

Leadership, she says, is changing.

"During my own long career I have witnessed the emergence of new, non-elected leaders with tremendous overt or hidden politician influence, for better or worse. The most significant of these have been corporate leaders.”

She cites, too, the rise of advocacy groups, charitable organisations, and “new leaders … from previously untapped and sometimes unlikely sources”, all of whom need to speak well. In fact, she’s said elsewhere,

“when any individual gives a speech, they become a leader. They have the precious opportunity to lead their listeners to a new attitude or understanding or insight.”

To reverse the logic: giving a speech inevitably makes a leader of the speaker.

Politicians usually have an implicit understanding of the need to harness the power of rhetoric. “Words do not have the same automatic positive connotations for corporate types,” writes Dr Holdforth. CEOs tend to see communication as “an unpleasant addition to their job, rather than central to its execution.” But, she says, “if you want to lead, you have to persuade. If you want to persuade, then you will need to give speeches.” You may need a speechwriter to help you. Leading Lines is aimed at both speechwriters and speechmakers.

Speeches themselves are increasingly taking on a life beyond the podium. They’re now broadcast through a host of channels; indeed, “this wide dissemination is one reason why a great speech is such a valuable investment: it becomes a driving and unifying communication tool.”

In this wider environment, they become subject to new pressures and constraints. Dr Holdforth goes as far as to say – echoing Mark Thompson in his book Enough Said – that “political correctness has been a disaster for plain speaking and public discourse.” She notes an increasing scepticism among audiences:

“Anyone who takes on a traditional leadership role in the modern world comes up against a wall of cynicism – legitimate cynicism.”

Lucinda
As she sees it, the way to deal with both challenges – the well-meaning but baroque obfuscations, and the jeering hostility that they so often provoke – is to focus on argument.

Finding the argument is at the heart of her strategy when working with a speaker. Many of her business clients give her what they see as a speech structure; she recognises it as “a record of their thinking process, culminating in the main message. The task of the speechwriter is to flip the order, and make sure the main message is up the front and structures the entire speech.”

This approach brings to mind Barbara Minto – whom Dr Holdforth mentions in passing – and her famous Pyramid Principle, born of McKinsey and now ubiquitous in the corporate universe, if still rarely followed. Too many corporate communications managers, for instance, supply speechwriters with lists of bullet points described as the ‘outline’ of a speech. “Joining the dots,” writes Dr Holdforth, “just creates a list of ideas, not an argument.”

“A leader’s speech works best as the resolved product of thinking, not a record of the thinking process. The voice of reason has an integrity and a sense of resolution… Speechwriting is no a transcription services, but a creation service. The words don’t just reflect an idea; very often, they also shape and crystallise it.”

Here is a rhetorician boldly reasserting the centrality of what Cicero called invention in rhetorical practice. “This clarity of writing,” she says, “is about more than just a modern and mobile style. It is a form of ethics.” A well argued speech provokes counter-argument and debate, the very life blood of democracy. Rhetoric without argument is facile and trivial. But we who value rhetoric, she says, must not succumb to despair in the face of Etonian classical allusions or incoherent ranting.

“The answer to rhetoric that we don’t like … is … not less rhetoric, it’s more and better rhetoric.

Everything in a speech – the speaker’s authority, the stories they tell, the emotions they conjure – everything derives from their core argument. That argument must also address the beliefs and values underlying an audience’s cynicism. “Any thorough argument,” writes Dr Holdforth, “must increasingly go back to basics and question the underlying assumptions” She invokes Stephen Toulmin’s warrant-based model of argumentation to support her thesis.

Leaders, of course, must also tell stories. Dr Holdforth sees that stories supply our deep need for meaning, so any story that the leader tells must knit with a robust argument to supply that meaning.  She points out, strikingly, that the argument will often itself supply the emotion that lifts a speech. “Clients tell me they want their speech to have stories with passion,” she writes, “as if passion were an ornament that you could paste on any old speech draft, rather than the intellectual energy driving and shaping it.”

She’s particularly good on ceremonial speeches. “Many of us,” she writes, “live in a lonely and godless world, and we hunger for ceremonies that lend significance to our days.” But, in fact, “few occasions reveal deep, underlying divisions and discord more than a ceremonial event.” The job of a ceremonial speech is not so much to generate energy as to channel the energy already in the room: “to tap into that energy and reflect it back to the audience.” The speaker should remind us “why we love each other despite our flaws, and stick together despite our differences.” The speech, she says, “becomes a form of communion.”

So, in this new book, Lucinda Holdforth supplies a rich mix of method and experience. Where Lehrman’s book is like taking a training course, Leading Lines is like an apprenticeship. If you’re a professional speechwriter, buy two copies: one for yourself and one for your speaker. (Bookmark the opening of Chapter 4 for their attention.) Keep it close at hand; you’ll find yourself coming back to it. Leading Lines is a book that just keeps giving.


‘So what do you do?’: the 19th European Speechwriters’ Conference, Paris, 25 September 2019

Irish
What’s the collective noun for a group of speechwriters?

A proclamation? A peroration? A paradox, perhaps?

Speechwriting is, after all, a profession full of contradictions. Speechwriters craft public language and lurk in the shadows; they crave close access to their speakers and often see their texts mangled by cloth-eared apparatchiks. They need to be agile networkers, and they work - for hours and hours - alone.

A collective of speechwriters might seem an oxymoron.

Which is why the very concept of a speechwriters’ conference promises intrigue and surprise. Both were evident at the 19th conference of the European Speechwriters’ Network, held in September 2019 at the Irish Cultural Institute in Paris.

 

ESN

The location was apposite. Last year, French speechwriters founded La Guilde des Plumes, which is rapidly establishing itself as the francophone companion organisation of the ESN. Members of the guild attended the September conference, contributing to a day of rich conversation, both on and off the platform.

Guild

You might expect the conversation to be wide-ranging. But you might not expect the sheer enjoyment that invariably bubbles up, the moment these people get together. Forget the bottom-numbing, tunnel-vision specialism of most professional conferences. ESN conferences are fun. (Guy Doza’s puckish chairing in Paris set the tone.) Speechwriters are a motley band with a wide range of responsibilities; and every good speechwriter has a healthy obsession with ‘general knowledge’. You can never tell where the conversation might turn.

 

Guy

 

Melanie Dunn’s briskly stimulating talk opened the proceedings, distilling impressive experience into a checklist of necessary skills, amounting to a virtual job description. Speechwriters, she told us, need to be able to absorb, sponge-like, vast amounts of information, and then distil it into three crisp ideas. Melanie notices a new requirement, too: the ability to navigate social media and online analytics.

 

Melanie

 

Speechwriters - whether political or corporate - must also integrate with the culture in which they work – while often finding themselves isolated. (Another paradox.) During the day, we encountered cultures aplenty. This is a truly European network: French, Danish, Polish, Norwegian, Dutch – the list goes on, and includes Americans, Canadians and others.

Then there’s the Irish connection. Tom Moylan mischievously suggested that his country’s heritage gave it several linguistic headstarts over the English. (Gaelic has given English numerous words, including ‘Tory’.) Ireland has a noble storytelling tradition: every leader or taoiseach, throughout history, has had his file (pronounced ‘filly’), a prophetic poet who foretold the future in verse or riddle.


Tom

Speechwriters, Tom suggested, could well transfer some of the core conventions of that tradition into their own practice: be humble (never begin until you’ve been asked, three times); open innocuous but intriguing; and don’t protest if you’re interrupted.

Pauline Genee, who writes speeches for Dutch politicians, brought her expertise as a novelist to the conversation. Focus on conflict and character, she told us.


3000x3000_14360857

 

Don’t be afraid of simple formulas. A wants B and is prevented by C; without that dynamic, a rambling narrative will never become a compelling tale.

Sometimes the story explodes in front of us. Kevin Toolis considered how leaders respond to a crisis: a sudden, overwhelming, threatening event. The purpose of a catastrophe speech must be to restore authority, order and calm in the face of incipient violence or chaos. It needs to be delivered immediately; time, Kevin told us, is your enemy. This is a dangerous, risky speech to write – the world is listening – but it’s unavoidable if you want to capture the narrative.

 

Kevin

His example was Tony Blair’s speech on the morning of Princess Diana’s death: forged at white heat with Alistair Campbell in the night watches after the fateful car accident; perfectly framed (Blair stops off, on a damp Sunday morning, as he takes his family to church in Sedgefield); and performed – there is no other word – with pinpoint precision, complete with careful hesitations and a voice breaking with emotion.

Blair

That speech did its job perfectly. And every speech, as Peggy Noonan reminded us via Melanie Dunn, has a job to do. Foregrounding the task of persuading an audience over the bland delivery of complex information can be tricky, especially when your principal is a pathologically cautious banker.

A number of European central banks were represented in the audience; and, on the platform, Antonia Fleischmann painted a vivid picture of her role at the Bundesbank. Her job is to help the bank maintain trust. When so many speeches from central bankers are so alike, markets can move on the substitution of an exclamation mark for a full stop. (These speeches are also scrutinised in transcript.)


Antonia_fleischmann

 

Antonia sits with market analysts – rather than her comms colleagues – so that she can understand the mind-boggling complexities of international finance. She’s learnt that, if you want to convince economists of the virtues of clear language, the best tools are data-driven text analytics and readability statistics.

Improv, on the other hand, might not cut it with financiers. But there’s no reason why speechwriters shouldn’t try a bit of stand-up. In one of the afternoon breakout sessions, Alexandra Fresse-Eliazord – who has assembled a collection of 300 drama exercises – cajoled a group of us into making up stories from scratch. Composing extempore can help bring written speeches to life.

 

PhotoCom_bandeau

Of course, we need to balance spontaneity with attention to structure and style. At ESN conferences, the rhetorical tradition, from Aristotle onwards, is never far from the surface. Imogen Morley took another breakout group through a lively analysis of a speech by Hilary Clinton to demonstrate how studying good speeches from the past, far from being a dry academic exercise, can generate new ideas.

 

44w37SpB_400x400

Even tennis can provide valuable insights. Jennifer Migan – herself a professional tennis player turned speechwriter and coach – explained how the skill of reading your opponent on the court can become the skill of empathy with a speaker who might find it hard to open up with a writer.

 

Jennifer

 

In the end, of course, it all comes back to language. The words have to work hard. Writing for a Chinese corporation, Jennifer told us, meant focusing on the company vision and ruthlessly excising any content that didn’t fit. Writing for a prominent speaker in Doha, Melanie Dunn explained, meant exchanging punchy arguments and explicit emotion for the poetry of Arabic and a shimmering presentational image for the speaker. In a one-party state, as one delegate explained to me over coffee, the task of a public speech is simply to fill the void.

And working in France, as Lucie Robin explained in the day’s keynote talk (more mischief: Lucie's chosen title was Know Your Enemy) means understanding how eloquence in French is closely codified and monitored. The French take pride in their language and value the appearance of smartness (don’t take out the long words; add to them). Avoid the taboos (money; religion); cultivate wit (l’esprit). Above all, treat your audience with maximum respect.

Lucie

It’s a sobering thought. At a moment when public discourse in English is suffering from a surfeit of bad manners, we anglophones would do well to remember that the language of diplomacy is founded firmly on French. We need to find a new public language: principled, nuanced, collaborative. And speechwriters could have a leading role in establishing it.

The European Speechwriter Network holds its next conference at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on 1, 2 and 3 April, 2020. To book a place, email [email protected].

 
 

Six patterns of explanation

People-3d-thinking-mind-mapping-497747340-5b31bbec8e1b6e0036ab2793[image: DrAfter123 / Getty Images]

We understand information by pattern-matching. If you can organise information into a simple pattern that your audience or reader can recognise, they'll be better prepared to understand it.

For instance, we can explain in six different ways. I have no idea who first created this list of patterns, but my hunch is that it appeared at some point in the early nineteenth century. The list varies slightly from textbook to textbook; this is the version I've found most useful over the years.

Example

Categorising

Definition

Comparison and contrast

Cause and effect

Chronological or process pattern

Get to know these patterns. They'll help you explain anything more clearly.

 

Example

Explanation by example, probably the simplest pattern, creates a list. Examples can help make an idea concrete by creating a mental image.

Journey times for passengers are just about keeping to expected levels on all Tube lines. The Metropolitan, East London, Northern and Piccadilly all report additional excess journey time averages. The Bakerloo, Victoria and District Lines showed the most marked improvement during the Christmas period. 

Signal words for explanation by example include:

  • in addition
  • another
  • for example
  • also
  • several
  • a number of

This pattern could be presented graphically as a bullet list. (Like the one above!)

 

Categorising

We humans seem to have a natural talent for sorting information into categories.  Categories are created by dividing information into parts. This pattern follows three rules.

  • Every item under consideration should fit into one of your categories.  If you have odd items left over, add other categories or rework your existing categories. 
  • Categories should not overlap.
  • Items should fit into only one category.  If you cannot decide where to put something, ask if it can be eliminated as irrelevant, or whether it needs a category to itself.

Give each category a clear name.  Sub-categories will come under larger categories with more general names.

Put things, people, places, into categories based on their similarities. Alternatively, you could take one thing, person, place and divide it into its components.

Make the purpose of classification clear and interesting. A paper classifying the different areas to study in college is not very interesting. A paper classifying the different types of sexism in the classroom is interesting.

Explain how you have created your categories. Include the rule or principle used to classify items into groups. Use examples, details, and data to help readers distinguish between categories.

Playing fields may be owned by private or public landholders. Private owners include companies, banks, sports clubs, developers, or individual land owners not necessarily associated with any commercial enterprise. Public owners include local authorities, schools, colleges or other public sector bodies such as the Civil Service or National Health Service.

Signal words and phrases or categorising include:

  • include
  • exclude
  • not limited to
  • can be divided into
  • types of
  • sorts of

Categorising could be represented graphically by a pie chart.

 

 

CategoriesDefinition

A definition identifies something uniquely: an object, a procedure, a term or a concept.  There are three types of definition.

  • A short definition explains by means of a synonymous word or phase, often in brackets or between commas. 
  • A sentence definition is made up of two sections: the class to which the object belongs; and the features which distinguish it from all other items in the class.  A glossary is made up of sentence definitions. 
  • An extended definition can be short as a paragraph or as long as a chapter.  It may include a brief history of the term (the language it came from, its current use, how the use has changed).  An extended definition should also include the object's function.

ROI for tourism is the amount of additional visitor expenditure that campaigns generate compared with the amount of public money invested in these campaigns. 

Explore a subject’s meaning fully. Differences within the definition are fine if they exist within the established boundaries.

Draw clear boundaries around the defined subject to avoid confusion with other subjects. Use examples, details, and anecdotes to strengthen your definition.

Signal words and phrases  for definition include:

  • is defined as
  • means
  • is described as
  • is called
  • refers to
  • term
  • concept

I haven't ever found a good visual or graphic representation of definition. A Venn diagram might be helpful. On the other hand:

Venn

Comparison and contrast

Comparisons display the similarities between things; contrasts show the differences.  You can use them separately, or together: comparison before contrast.

In our view, the CEE regional businesses share similar growth drivers, in particular robust regional economic outlooks, high growth advertising markets,operational synergies as part of the MTG group,regulatory changes and the launch of niche channels.

The variance in availability of playing fields between inner and outer London is marked. In theory, there are 227 playing fields available to residents in inner London boroughs, as opposed to 1,202 available to residents in outer London.   We discuss availability in theoretical terms because availability does not necessarily equate to accessibility. There are issues around access for local people, who may find themselves deprived of access for a variety of reasons.

The items under consideration must be comparable.  You would not compare the costs of freight haulage by rail in the UK to container haulage to Australia by ship. Establish the criteria by which you are comparing and contrasting.  Have as many as possible: cost, convenience, prestige, size, security, safety and so on. Rank the criteria in priority order.  This might be a controversial exercise, but unless the criteria are weighted you will not be able to contract them effectively.

State a clear purpose regarding why the subjects are being compared or contrasted at the beginning of the paper. Explaining the differences between summer and winter, however well written or spoken, must also be interesting.

Share enough features to make a comparison valuable. Choose a narrow enough basis for comparing or contrasting, so that all major similarities and differences can be covered.

Signal words and phrases for comparison and contrast include:

  • similar, different
  • on the other hand
  • but
  • however
  • bigger than, smaller than
  • in the same way
  • parallel

Comparison and contrast can be presented graphically as a table.

Compare and contrast[image from allcameradriver.com]

 

Cause and effect

Cause and effect explains why something happened. 

The difficulty, of course, is in deciding which is cause and which is effect! A cause is so often the effect of another cause, which may be harder to determine or control.  Look for the immediate cause; the underlying cause; and the ultimate cause.  Your analysis will be circumscribed by the areas of responsibility involved.

The breakdown in communications within the London Ambulance service had an impact on the service’s ability effectively to deploy the necessary vehicles, personnel, equipment and supplies to the incidents.  Survivors told us repeatedly of their surprise at the apparent lack of ambulances at the scenes, even an hour or more after the explosions. 

Cause and effect is a technique fraught with danger.  Determine which type of cause you are searching for: immediate, underlying or ultimate.  What is your purpose in identifying these causes?  Be open-minded.  Try not to rush to conclusions or to allocate blame 'politically'.  Be as logical as you can.  Eliminate coincidence.  Take all factors into account.  Is there more than one cause?  Are there other effects that you have not considered?  Trace all the links.  Go as far back as necessary (or as is expedient!) to the ultimate cause.

The robust advertising growth will be largely driven by demand from both local and multinational advertisers, buoyed by deregulation and relatively stable economic conditions.

Signal words for cause and effect explanation include:

  • for this reason
  • consequently
  • as a result
  • on that account
  • hence
  • because

Cause and effect can be represented graphically by a fishbone or Ishikawa diagram. This is also a useful tool for establishing causes of a problem.

 

Fishbone2

 

Chronological or process pattern

Items are listed in the order in which they occurred or in a specifically planned order in which they must develop.  In this form of explanation, the order is vital; changing it would change the explanation's meaning.

A process pattern lists all the steps necessary to carry out an operation.  It may take the form of a set of instructions (like a recipe), a quality procedure or a technical specification report.  It proceeds step by step.  The steps must occur in a particular order: if the order is wrong, the operation will fail. 

The proposed timetable is as follows:

Scoping brief to Chair on 7 April;

Project Initiation meeting at 10am on 11 April;

Scoping brief to Members on 12 April;

Despatch call for evidence letters by 21 April;

Written evidence received by 26 May;

Evidence analysed and briefing paper prepared for Members by 5 July;

Evidentiary Hearing 13 July;

Formal approval of scrutiny report at 12 October Committee meeting

Process analysis usually tells the reader about a process or how to do it. 

In calculating the cost of capital, we compute the split of earnings between domestic and international operations, which after the deconsolidation of the Argentinean subsidiaries comprise mainly Brazil. To calculate the cost of capital of the domestic operations, we add the eurobond yield of 3.64% to the Italian equity risk premium of 4.0%. To calculate the cost of capital of the international operations, we add the Brazil short term interest rate of 30% to the country risk premium of 6%. Lastly, we calculate the weighted capital obtained on a earnings basis.

Instructions tend to be far more detailed explanations.

Signal words and phrases for chronological or process explanation include:

  • first, second, third
  • first, secondly, thirdly
  • next
  • before
  • after
  • when
  • later
  • until
  • at last

Chronological explanation could be presented graphically as a timetable -

2019_Red_Timetable- or as a timeline:

Timeline

A set of instructions will be laid out as a numbered list - like a recipe:

RecipeNote that the list of ingredients here is explanation by example. The method is organised as a process. The distinction between the two is made even clearer by the use of bullets for the list of examples, and of numbers for the process. 

Notice also that lists of instructions are not necessarily in process order.

Instructions

(And please do not try to iron your backside, even on a low heat.)

I run training courses on effective writing email and letter writing, report writing and grammar. Contact me to find out more.