10 November 2006

In Defense Of Writing In Paragraphs

I write long posts on my blog. I write long comments in response to other people's blog posts and comments. Usually, my posts and comments are long enough to need multiple paragraphs.

This style of writing does not maximize the approval you get in forums like Daily Kos where people can rate each other's posts. It also is contrary to every instinct of print journalism, where your headline and first paragraph are everything, and the emphasis is on swiftly conveying the facts to a busy reader.

We live in an era where politics are driven by sound bites and slogans. Maybe this has always been what politics is about, nostalgia for the Lincoln-Douglas debates notwithstanding. I myself frequently find political debate excruciating to attend in person, especially if they have extended question and answer periods from the audience.

One of the reasons I like blogs is that they provide an antidote to this abbreviated, unnuanced, thinly reasoned and fact poor form of political discourse. Politics by sound bite has an inherent tendency to polarize people. Real political discussions, and real political analysis at multiple paragraph lengths, allows you to include the nuances that can build consensus.

In politics nuance matters. South Dakota's Referendum 6, which would have banned abortion in all cases except those where the health of the mother was in danger, would have passed by a landslide if it had included exceptions for rape and incest, which make up a very small percentage of South Dakota abortions.

Colorado's Amendment 42, establishing a minimum wage in the state constitution, would have passed by a much larger margin, and received much wider newspaper endorsement, had it been a proposed statute rather than a proposed constitutional amendment.

A few differences in the definition of instructional expense made the difference between Referendum J, which proposed to force school districts to spend 65% on instruction, impacting just 3 school districts in the state, and Amendment 39, which on the surface proposed the same thing, which would have impacted all but 11 school districts in the state (there are about 178 school disticts in all, IIRC).

Writing in paragraphs builds consensus, and promotes moderation. It creates openings for rational, civil discussion of delicate issues. It allows for greater precision, which in turn, leaves less room for miscommunication. And, miscommunication is common when people don't know or trust each other.

It takes longer to read political analysis that comes in paragraphs instead of on bumper stickers. It also takes longer to respond to that kind of analysis, and it discourages nit picking comments that claim you didn't address some nuance that matters to someone. This may mean that there are fewer participants in the discussion. The best way to provoke discussion, and talk radio hosts know this, is to say at least one thing that your audience members know is obviously wrong and defend it. But, on this blog, at least, it isn't all about ratings. It is also about the quality of the readers that I get, and the quality of the experience that they have reading what I write.

Writing in paragraphs can be an excuse for flabby writing. Certainly, it is easier to write a long speech than it is to write a short one. But, perhaps because of my academic upbringing and biases (I have been a professor myself), I favor thoughtful, if sometimes a little flabby writing, over writing that is terse but vapid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.