If you want to keep your reader interested in your argument it helps to think about the tactics and tools you have at your disposal. You actually have a lot. Some of these are syntactical, some more artistic, and some are to do with your message. This post is a reminder that it’s helpful to keep message tactics in mind when you are writing. They can do a lot, not to simply to strengthen and support what you argue, but also to interest and engage your reader.
We often think about some of these message tactics as ‘evidence’ – they are the ‘stuff’ that we offer in support of our argument. But rather than evidence, I’d like to reframe these, just for a minute, as message tactics.
Humour me. What do I mean by message tactics?
Well, the idea of a message stems from an understanding that the reader is in a kind of internal conversation with you as they read. They read along and the conversation is either dull or interesting. You do – or don’t – get your message across. And tactics of course suggests that you can do things, as a writer, to encourage the reader to stay talking with you – and to talk with you in particular ways. So think of choosing message tactics as selecting approaches which steer the reader into a potential course of action.
So – if keeping your reader awake is about stimulating, supporting and encouraging the dialogue that the reader has with your text, it’ s pretty helpful to get a grip on some of the most common message tactics you can use. If you do, you can take a moment to consider which of them will not only do the most persuasive and credible job for you, but also which are the most engaging and most relevant to your reader(s). You make wise choices about what to do when, where and why, with your writing.
The tactics outlined below are those that you might use either in the body of a paragraph or as a major section of a paper or chapter. They of course overlap (all heuristics are by their nature pretty imperfect). And you might do more than one of them in the same piece of writing. However, it’s helpful to understand what each of the tactics means in practice and what they do with, and for, your readers.
|tactic||what you do||#wakeupreader|
|Add extra supporting details||Adding information helps to clarify and/or support what you are saying. If well chosen, an example can connect what you are saying with an ongoing scholarly conversation and/or with something that is of interest or already known to the reader.
Diagrammes and illustrations can also be used to present additional information and these require the reader to stop with the words – this may or may not be welcome 🙂
|Give an example
|Provide a concrete illustration||In making an abstract idea more concrete, you not only provide ‘evidence’ but also can enliven the argument, and engage the reader. But beware the example that actually narrows the reader’s interpretation.
Examples can be presented in interesting ways – vignettes, narratives, break out boxes – to break the visual monotony of the page.
|Replace one idea with another
|Re-present the same idea in a different way||Writing something like – “this might also be understood as…” or “given the difficulties already described with x concept, the notion of y allows…” – or something similar shows the reader you are about to offer them something else.
An idea replacement encourages the reader to consider the relative merits of different approaches to the same phenomena, idea, event or problem.
|Compare and contrast
|Bring two ideas or situations or events together to see what is common to them, or the nature of the differences between them||This is a very common way to draw out particular elements of a phenomena, event, saying, idea or problem. Elaborating shared and distinctive elements helps you to show your key points. This ‘show and tell’ can help the reader to follow what you are arguing.
Carefully selected ideas, situations or events can help readers connect their prior experience, knowledge and interest with your argument.
|Put the material/events/problem/issue in its broad historical and political context||The reader is able to consider the context of the phenomenon/idea/event etc. you are discussing.
They can thus bring their own historical/political knowledge to your prose.
|Say specifically when – time – and where – space||The reader understands that they are to read what you are saying as being about something specific rather than applying to all times and places.
The reader can also now do their own compare and contrast – how does this situation stack up against instances/places they know well.
|Establish necessary conditions or prerequisites||As above, provide key contextual information – but explicitly argue, through carefully staged moves, the importance of particular relationships and their significance||You provide the reader with an explanation in logical steps, with supporting evidence. They can then critically engage with you – they can debate with you via your writing.|
|As above – but rather than suggesting a relationship or connection, argue something very conclusive||As above – the reader is offered an explanation that they can take as given, or interrogate.|
|Offer a new conceptual heuristic or a theorisation||You invite the reader to rethink the ways in which a problem, phenomenon, idea, event etc. is usually understood, or has initially been presented.
Your goal is to suggest a significant new line of thinking. This might delight as well as surprise!
This is great Pat, thanks for sharing!
Reblogged this on Observations of a tired sOul..
Thanks Pat, I had to look up some hard words and phrases (like “conceptual heuristic”) but I think many of these ideas can be used across disciplines. I often write with a group of friends and we say that it’s the “story” that makes the reader engage with the subject, which I think is along much the same lines as your “message”.
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