Why you want MORE than the facts

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to share more than the facts…

Are you one of those writers who wants to deliver only the facts? No fake news for you! Only clear, clean factual information — the more the better — that will help make your case in the most persuasive, convincing way ever.

Here’s why I think that strategy is a bad idea: “Facts” seldom persuade anyone of anything. Instead, you’ll be far more successful as a writer if you zero in on the small point you want to communicate, the modest argument you want to make, and do it cleanly and simply.

Providing context will also help you, as will telling stories. But burying readers in information almost never works. (Even for scientists. Make that especially for scientists.)

A recent blog post on the Craft Your Content website made this point persuasively. Under the headline How Not To Write Like an Expert, author Jea Morris gave some wise tips to the fact-oriented writer. Here is a summary of what she says:

“Keep the facts lean and on-topic, making sure your paragraphs aren’t too thick. Write mostly in the active voice, with a tone that’s engaging, not imperious. Limit the long words or abbreviations, and definitely skip the verbification. These tiny changes will make an outsized difference to your writing.”

I think the point about passive voice bears repeating. Many scientists assume that they must use passive voice (eg: Mistakes were made), which hides the ‘actor’ of the sentence, because the scientific method prizes neutrality. The other issue of course, is that good science assumes that findings can change at any time — nothing is ever proven so much as disproven.

But there is an easy way to solve this dilemma and I urge you to memorize it now. Use a sentence like: The results suggest….

It’s active, clear and modest. It hints that later results could easily go in a different direction.

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