What I Wish I Had Known in College: Writing (2 of 2)

What I Wish I Had Known in College: Writing (2 of 2)

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Writing is a critical skill, but it’s also a perspective and mindset. This blog is a continuation of insight provided HERE. If possible, read them in order.


Equifinality suggests that students include multiple, even opposing views and reasoning for choosing the options they choose as supporting theories. Comparative advantage is a close corollary. It suggests that you explain and demonstrate if possible the advantages of the method, position, or source you are promoting.

Opposing Views. The world is not just black and white. Even amid the polarized pundits, talking heads, and politicos of the media, grays still exist. Your task is to see the problem from multiple vantage points. Your writing project will evidence wisdom and insight through this simple exercise.

Vantage Point

Get a different vantage point.

Several techniques exist for ferreting multiple views. A primary method is to view the problem from a different vantage point. This can be a person’s point of view, a nation’s point of reference, or some other perspective. The critical ingredient is that the perspective shines a light or focus a lens that challenges the assumptions of other lights or lenses.

Please consider this as more than “playing devil’s advocate.” Often, this is only a reconjuring of a black or white point of view. True expansion of views will ask questions that shake the foundation of the previous argument.

For example, in an argument about women’s rights, the black and white views are yes and no respectively. A truly expanded view may explore women’s rights through a lens of rights versus entitlement, sexuality historically, patriarchy, marriage contracts, or something other than right versus wrong or one side of the Yes versus the other side of the No.

Comparative Advantage. After you present multiple views of the problem, solution, or concept at hand, you will want to explain your process for choosing the option you will focus on. In this work, you want to present sequential steps as much as possible.

The challenge is to refuse the reflex to obscure your assumptions. Often, we think that our readers know what we know. We surmise therefore that they do not need a full explanation. They do. Even your teacher does. Spoon feed them with the care of a new mother. Your verbal presentation may skip or assume, but your written presentation does not have such luxury.

Anatomy of a Case

Writing is not about filling up the page, it is about explaining with the tools available to you. Storytelling is a skill to become expertly familiar with. Just as pictures say thousands of words, so stories can explain where the sterile terms cannot. Most people can tell a story, or so they think. Two questions reign in conceptualizing your story. First: What is the fit between the story and the point you are making? Second: How does the story provide the least amount of self-disclosure or identifying information to still get the point across.

Fit. Allow me to emphasize the importance of an outline before going any farther in this explanation. An outline is a foundational tool for discovering fit. Your outline communicates where you are going with the writing project. How the story fits is a question of how it harmonizes with the outline. Your story should elevate and bolster the sense made in the writing project.

Your challenge is to tell the story in ways that sync with the narrative theme in the writing project. That is, you must tell the story utilizing the words used already. This often means leaving out quotes and specific emotions that are useful when the story is told by itself.

For example, suppose I told a story of the birth of my daughter to illustrate the health disparities in America. I would necessarily leave out my wife’s joy at the birth and my awakening to the responsibilities of fatherhood. The story illustrates health. I would focus on the co-pay required for monthly doctor visits, the hardship of finding insurance coverage as a college student, and the differences in prenatal care for our income level and affiliations at the time versus if we had not established those affiliations.

Self-Disclosure. Telling a story about yourself is an effective way to humanize yourself to your readers. It is also a terrific way to communicate a complex concept with emotional anchors that may assist some to comprehend. People remember how you made them feel. Stories can facilitate those feelings.

Before you share a personal story, ask yourself at least two questions. First, could this concept be communicated with some other illustration? If you can readily think of another way to communicate, employ that option. If you find that you would lose too much of the meaning without the story, proceed.

Second question: What is the minimal amount of detail and specificity required to communicate the concepts? This is about leaving out elements, and it is about resisting the pitfall of making the presentation all about you. Remember, a point exists that you intend to illustrate for improved digestion and comprehension on the part of your reader. This is not a show and tell.

As you contemplate the illustration, mentally start with “long story short.” This forces you to begin with the point in mind without the details. Add details that connect with processes that are germane to the overall writing project. Stories used in this way can make your writing come alive.