John R. Trimble, Writing with Style

1 “Getting Launched”

1) “Pick a subject that means something to you, emotionally as well as intellectually” (4)

2) “Delimit it so that it is manageable” (7)

3) “Stockpile data” – “readers like to be taught” (7)

4) “Formulate a variety of searching questions … [and] begin sketching out” your claims, using notecards, slips of paper [or the outliner on your word-processor] (7)

5) Choose one idea as “the provisional organizing principle” or thesis (9)

6) Write a rough draft: “Scribble off two or three rough drafts” (9) [my approach is to organize and re-organize outline with pieces in various stages of completion]. “Ideas that look good initially have the unhappy habit of looking irrelevant or incomplete from hindsight” (9) “I recommend that you use the same starting formula for each draft. Simply write the words ‘Well, it seems to me that — ’” (10). “Never let yourself pause more than briefly between sentences, and don’t censor your thoughts”

7) Read the draft critically; “underline phrases that please you” (11)

8) (Re)write another rough draft but don’t stop to edit: “If you slow down to edit what you have written, you’ll put an airtight lid on those unconscious thoughts” (11)

9) (Re)write another rough draft. “Delete every extraneous idea. Brighten up lackluster phrases. Clarify muddy thoughts. Tighten up their continuity. Convert unnecessary passive contructions into active ones.” “Read every sentence aloud.” “Above all, force yourself to search painstakingly for even small lapses in continuity” [note how this differs from primary sources] (11-12)

2 “Thinking Well”

"The novice"

“Self-oriented”: “his natural tendency as a writer is to think primarily of himself and thus to write primarily for himself. Here, in a nutshell, lies the ultimate reason for most bad writing” (15)

The success of the communication depends solely on how the reader receives it” (15)

"The veteran"

the art of selling the reader … two things: your ideas and you … as intelligent, informed, credible, and companionable” (17)

Four essentials: saying something “worth his attention”; must be “sold on its validity and importance yourself”; “furnish strong arguments”; “use language that sells – vigorous verbs, strong nouns, … assertive phrasing” (17)

“You sell your reader by courteously serving him” (17)

Five ways to serve reader: “phrase your thoughts clearly”; “speak to the point”; “anticipate his many questions”; “offer him variety and humor”; “converse with him in a warm, friendly, open manner” (19)

Basic attitudes: principal goal “is to communicate”; “whatever isn’t plainly stated the reader will invariably misconstrue”; even “profoundest ideas are capable of being expressed clearly”; “nine-tenths of all writing is rewriting”; “perhaps most important of all, they are sticklers for continuity” (20)

"Anticipate your reader’s response"

Reader is “just waiting for an excuse to tune out”; writer must must take care to use “emphathy” “anticipation” to meet challenges in each sentence: help reader feel the urgency; offer analogies [avoid]; avoid confusing sentences [is there any way to interpret sentence incorrectly?]; avoid repetition, pretention, verbosity”; use “strongly conversational, living voice” (22)

"Some Concluding Thoughts"

Avoid writing “mumbo jumbo”:

1) Write for your reader -- avoid writing for oneself

2) “A single reading is all [your reader] owes you

3) Use “shorter words and shorter sentences

4) Reread paper twice: first “through the eyes of a nonliterary person” then “through the eyes of your worst enemy” (24)

5) Reread the paper the next day.

3 "How to write a critical analysis"

“A plot summary begins with no thesis or point of view… A critical analysis … takes a viewpoint and attempts to prove its validity” (26)

Use “details to demonstrate a point” (26)

Suggestions: “assume that your basic audience is a well-informed reader … he will be bored with commonplace perceptions … he prefers reading arguments to mere chat” (29)

4 "Openers"

“You give each story only four or five sentences to prove itself … You, too, will generally be given only four or five sentences to prove that you are worth a hearing” (31)

“A good opener invariably has a good thesis – bold, interesting, clearly focused – and a good thesis tends to argue itself because it has a built-in forward thrust” (31)

[The examples of openers, p. 32, are not appropriate for historical writing]

“A skilled writer will sometimes have to spend as much as a third of his total writing time trying to get his opener into shape” (35)

Suggestions for openers: “strong, tightly focused thesis”; “concrete details”; “front-door approach”; “full-bodied”; “biggest punch – the strongest statement of your thesis – comes at the end” (36)

5 "Middles"

"The analogy"

“Primary goal [of expository writing] is to explain” (37)

The expository writer is like “a prosecuting attorney” [but you must be more honest, more open to evidence]: “‘Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell it to ’em, and then tell ’em what you’ve told ’em'” (38)

"The checklist"

Five other essentials:

1) “A well-defined thesis or position”

2) “A clear plan of attack”

3) “Solid evidence”

4) “Strong continuity of argument”

5) “A persuasive closing appeal” (40)

Reader is “most convinced by quality, not quantity” (42)

"The importance of continuity"

[See box on pg. 51, examples pg. 52]

"Final tips"

1) Make sure you have a clear thesis. (53)

2) "Think of yourself as a prosecuting attorney, think of your essay as a case, and think of your reader as a highly skeptical jury" (53)

3) Prove each of your points supporting your overall thesis (53)

4) "Signpost your argument every step of the way" (53)

5) "Assert, then support; assert, then support; assert, then support" (53)

6) Paragraphs should be "organized around a single major point" (53)

7) Instead of starting each paragraph with a topic sentence, use "a bridge sentence whose prime function is to convey the reader over into a new paragraph" (54)

6 "Closers"

1) “Get your main point … in sharp focus”

2) “Gratify your reader with at least one new idea”

3) “Give your ending emotional impact” (57)