The Three C`s of Writing

Report
The Three C’s of Writing
Clarity
Cohesion
Cogency
Presentation by Charles J. Shields
What’s the
writing job you
have to do?
Create the next
Great American
novel?
Submit a
report that
explains a
procedure?
“Nuclear Fission
Made Easy”
Argue your point of view?
“Codes of sexual harassment imagine an entirely
symmetrical universe, where people are never
outrageous, rude, awkward, excessive or confused….
perhaps we should be worrying about different forms
of hostility in our workplace….Maybe it’s better to live
and work with colorful or inappropriate comments,
with irreverence, wildness, incorrectness, ease.”
— Katie Roiphe, “In Favor of
Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks,”
New York Times, Nov. 12, 2011
Whatever the task is, these three goals
are common to all good writing:
1. It keeps the reader engaged;
2. It flows from point to point, step to step,
scene to scene;
3. It provokes the reader into thinking.
What does that
mean: it
provokes the
reader into
thinking?
You want a reaction.
“I see what she’s saying, but I don’t agree. I see her
point, though.”
“Very moving— sad, really.”
“Huh! Never thought of that— interesting!”
“Oh, I see! Makes sense, all right.”
The worst thing a reader can say about your
writing is:
So What!? Who cares?
________
“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will
not feel the time was wasted.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, 1999
When you write, you are
creating a relationship with
the reader.
Let’s begin with the first C
of writing:
Clarity
Clarity
the quality of being clear;
of being certain or definite;
the quality of transparency or
purity.
Your first aim in any kind of writing
is to be understood.
What is the enemy of clarity?
Here it is! Banish it— Evildoer! Confounder!
Obfuscator!
Complex
Writing!
Two symptoms
of complex
writing are:
The dreadful, passive
voice;
And the clingy,
dependent clause.
The passive voice:
“It was determined by the committee that the report
was inconclusive.”
“We were invited by the instructor to attend the
review session.”
“The religion of the pagans was able to survive the
onslaught of new ideas until the old gods were
finally displaced by Christianity.”
The solution— put the actors at the
front of the sentence:
The committee determined that the report was
inconclusive.
The instructor invited us to attend the review
session.
The religion of the pagans survived the
onslaught of new ideas until Christianity
displaced the old gods.
The clingy, dependent clause
is a result of trying
to do too much:
“It is one of the many ironies of Darwin’s career that
what many esteem as the centerpiece of his
voluminous scholarship— On the Origin of the
Species— he wrote in thirteen months, planning it
only as an introduction to some grander, future
exposition.”
— Kenneth Korey, The Essential Darwin (1984)
This way of writing makes us
wait. We have to hang on to a
dependent clause
until we get
to the point!
Revised:
Ironically, Darwin wrote The Origin of the
Species, the centerpiece of his voluminous
scholarship, in only thirteen months.[break]
He intended it to be the introduction of
some grander, future work.
Another way of making us
wait is tacking on clingy,
dependent clauses.
“In contrast to his father, who was conservative,
retiring, and extremely modest and unassuming,
Albert was extroverted, flamboyant, sociable, and a big
spender, who always lived on a very lavish scale in
various large houses with lots of servants, horses and
carriages and then the earliest and finest motor cars,
having at one point an English butler and a footman.
He entertained his friends without thought of cost:
the choicest viands, rare wines, flowers, the whitest
linens, and choicest porcelain chinaware, acquiring
the reputation of a millionaire who counted the cost
of nothing.”
— from a private family history
Revised:
Albert was extroverted, flamboyant, sociable, and a big
spender,[inverted the order] in contrast to his father, who
was conservative, retiring, and extremely modest and
unassuming. [break] He always lived on a very lavish scale
in various large houses with lots of servants, horses and
carriages and then the earliest and finest motor cars.
[break] At one point, he had an English butler and a
footman. He entertained his friends without thought of
cost: the choicest viands, rare wines, flowers, the whitest
linens and choicest porcelain chinaware. [break] He soon
acquired the reputation of a millionaire who counted the
cost of nothing.
A tip:
Read your writing aloud. If
you have to take a breath
before finishing a sentence,
then the sentence is too
long.
“Good writing sounds like
good conversation.”
— Virginia Woolf
Our second C of good
writing is:
Coherence
Coherence
The quality of being united, forming
a whole
The enemy of coherence
is:
Lack of Structure
All formal, well-executed writing has
an identifiable structure:
Novels have chapters
Chapters have four to six scenes
Plays have three acts
Essays and speeches have a beginning, middle, and
end
Processes are explained step-by-step
Arguments have a series of supporting points
Newspaper articles go from general to specific
Experiments are shown as cause and effect
Technical manuals go from whole-to-parts, or parts-towhole
The key thing is to decide
on an identifiable structure.
It will guide your writing—
it’s the blueprint.
Thesis/supporting points/
summary or conclusion
First, second, third
Introduction/development/end
Big/smaller/smallest
Problem/analysis/answer
Example from the
essay “New Age for
Navies” in The Untold
Civil War
Watch how he goes from a
broad idea, to specifics, to a
broad conclusion about what
happened, and what it meant.
First sentence, first paragraph:
“The first ironclads to wage war were designed and constructed for the Union in late
1861 by naval engineer James B. Eads of St. Louis.” (general)
Topics sentences of paragraphs that follow in order:
“The first battles between ironclads occurred in March 1862 in Hampton Roads, were
the James River enters the Atlantic.” (battles— more specific)
“The opposing ironclads that dueled there bore little resemblance to anything ever
seen afloat.” (the ships themselves— more specific)
“On March 9, the two bizarre ironclads met in Hampton Roads for their historic duel.”
(more specific— the day of the first fight)
Final paragraph, topic sentence:
“The battles in Hampton Roads were heralded as the end of wooden ships and the
dawn of the iron age in naval combat.” (broad again— a summary— looking ahead to
the future)
A Tip: If your ideas and points are logical, then
transitions should come smoothly, sensibly:
Addition:
also, again, as well as, besides, coupled with,
furthermore
Consequence:
accordingly, as a result, consequently, for this reason
Direction:
here, there, over there, beyond, nearly
Illustration:
for example, for instance, for one thing, as an
illustration
Summarizing:
after all, all in all, briefly, by and large, in any case, in
any event
Our third and final C of good
writing is:
Cogency
Cogency
Being (of an argument or
case) clear, logical, and
convincing.
The enemy of cogency is:
Bloodless Writing!
Here are the
symptoms:
Anemic, ordinary verbs
Weak, apologetic,
handwringing phrases
Anemic verbs tend to be
passive:
“I was going to explain that, in my opinion, there
are three reasons for the slump in the housing
market. This first one is a problem with
consumer confidence. The second one is the
stock market. The third is joblessness.”
Put energy into your writing. Use
verbs and other parts of speech that
suggest action.
“I will argue… the housing market collapse
causes… consumer confidence suffers…the
sudden upswings and downturns of the
stock market… the spread of joblessness that
casts a chill on real estate sales.”
Consider energy
in this passage:
With her hands clasped behind her back, the
only sign of her former life as a farmworker and
washwoman was the stumpy shape of her
forearms, their muscles enlarged from years of
twisting and squeezing soap through waterlogged
sheets and tablecloths. But of course it was her
hair that she wished to emphasize. Madam
Walker had pinned her now healthy tresses into a
carefully coifed crown, styled so that it gracefully
swooped away from her face.
— A’Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam
C.J. Walker (2001)
And never, never be humble or apologetic!
Do not say “In my opinion… I think…from
my point of view….it seems to me.” Don’t
communicate doubt— be bold!
Government is not the enemy. Not always. Don’t believe
that right-wing malarkey. In fact, for millions of
Americans down on their luck and at the end of their
rope, they can quickly find that government is their last
friend left. Governmental assistance can prevent the
certainty of a hungry night and a homeless tomorrow. It
can mean the difference between the comfort of stability
and the ravages of poverty….The lack of empathy for the
poor and suffering on the part of the
right is nothing short
of breathtaking.
— Charles M. Blow, “Friends with Benefits,”
New York Times, Nov. 12, 2011
Government is not the enemy.[declarative sentence] Not
always. [declarative] Don’t believe that right-wing malarkey.
[imperative— clearly said!] In fact, for millions of Americans
down on their luck and at the end of their rope, they can
quickly find that government is their last friend left.
Governmental assistance can prevent the certainty of a
hungry night and a homeless tomorrow.[strong, parallel,
alliterative] It can mean the difference between the comfort
of stability and the ravages of poverty….[ “comfort” versus
“ravages”— good contrast] The lack of empathy for the poor
and suffering on the part of the right is nothing short of
breathtaking. [not “wrong,” not “foolish,” but breathtaking.]
By being direct and plainspoken, you make your meaning clear.

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