Posted Dec. 16, 2017
The ability to think logically does not necessarily translate into an ability to write effectively. In fact, many excellent thinkers – people who otherwise excel in their technical field of expertise – can easily and inadvertently fall into common writing traps when they try to work logical thought and arguments into their written pieces. Here are two such writing mistakes.
RedundancyRedundancy in writing bogs down the flow and makes the narrative read awkwardly, yet it results frequently when writing out a logical sequence. It typically manifests like this:
- The first sentence is some general comment: “We studied the X and Y.”
- Second sentence: “The X and Y were encased in glass, which made studying them difficult.”
- Third sentence: “We found that by removing the glass, we could more easily study X and Y.”
- Fourth sentence: “After removing the glass from X and Y, we studied them and found that they were not worth studying.”
The first three sentences add no value; the fourth sentence alone provides all the key information. You’d be amazed how often otherwise brilliant folks do this: “first I did this, then I did this, and finally, this is what I found.” It’s an easy writing trap into which anyone can fall.
Instead, well-written logical arguments are economical in their phrasing: every word plays a pivotal role. Consider syllogisms, a type of logical argument originated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This form of logical argument is based on a degree of repetition, but it distills the argument rather than expanding it. Here’s Aristotle’s own classic example:
- Premise 1: All men are mortal.
- Premise 2: Socrates is a man.
- Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
When writing, try to apply Occam’s Razor and reduce the argument or statement to its simplest form.
Lack of clarityJust because a written piece incorporates logic doesn’t mean it’s good writing. For example, sometimes we try to make a reasoned argument but fail to realize our writing is unclear. It may emphasize the wrong ideas to the reader or sidestep the main argument we want to make. Remember, the reader relies on the writer to plainly communicate the main points.
We’ve written about this previously. In that article, we deconstruct a client trying to write a statement about her company’s product. The confusing phrasing made it sound like she was asserting that her company is the leading provider of this product, which may be true, but she was really trying to talk about the advantages of a new technology. Only when good logic and good writing skills merge can writing truly shine.
The best way to defend against these writing traps – and others like them – is to develop your writing skills until they match your ability to construct logical arguments. Bring these two skillsets into alignment, and your writing will become both more powerful and more persuasive.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.