Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Another Ridiculously Useful Tool

Jack Lynch is my hero for the day. He has compiles an alphabet’s worth of tips, observations, and guidelines for writing. I have linked to the “B” page because I found the first section on back-formation fascinating.

Language evolves in such unusual ways, but I confess that this particular direction had not occurred to me. Where, for instance, did the word sleazy come from if it wasn’t from sleaze?

I chose this page for another reason: it addresses the topic “begging the question.” For those of you who were not logic students or members of the debate team, begging the question means using the conclusion of your argument to prove it.

While that sounds obvious, it is often subtle thing. Making the case for something verbally does not work the same as constructing a mathematical equation. Ideal arguments, like those geometry proofs with which you (or at least I) struggled so much, follow a logical and undeniable progression. If you make the right steps the conclusion is indisputable. Unfortunately, few subjects allow for black-and-white presentation.

When you have finished creating an article that presents a conclusion, return to the beginning and write a sentence or phrase for every step in your argument. Check to see that they follow each other logically in the order in which you have presented them. Consider whether you assume your conclusion to be true in any of these steps.

You can write a grammatically perfect and linguistically elegant piece but if the flow is illogical they won’t be impressed with your verbal gymnastics. All of the pieces need to work together. Why do you think writing is so darn hard?