Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stop! Now Tell Me What You're Trying to Say.

Many times, when a classmate and I are looking through a paper, we will encounter a sentence that befuddles the mind and warps the senses. The reader (usually one of us reads out loud) will begin to slosh through the words, having lost sight of the meaning of the sentence. At this point, I slap my hand onto the sentence and yell:

"Stop! Now tell me what you're trying to say with this sentence."

Years of experience have taught me the writer's eyes will instinctively shoot down to the paper, looking to reread the sentence that had been read aloud only moments prior. But alas! They cannot see it through my muscley hand and must confront their great trouble: trying to say too much too quick.

Yes, dear readers, this is a struggle for each of us. Whether it is an impending deadline or a lack of interest that has warped our fragile minds, we must nonetheless battle this desire to cram information. Instead we must let it breathe.

How do we do this? Simply: say what we mean. If we encounter a section where the words just don't make sense and the paragraphs cause compasses to spin wildly, then we must rephrase it -- we must say it like we would to a friend. We must stop and talk -- out loud if necessary -- to our invisible friends and explain to them -- in simple and concise terms -- what we are saying.

If it helps, imagine a furry woodland creature. Great. Now explain everything in detail to this creature. Here's a visual aid for the imagination impaired:

I have named the preceding bunny "Bunce." In explaining Japanese-Sino government-business relations to Bunce, I understand that he may not know of the complex and violent history Japan and China share. So I use simple sentences and easy, logical connections when going from subject to subject. I do this for the sake of Bunce, but in truth, I'm also helping myself a great deal because I'm slowing down and deliberately picking words and sentences.

Even if it turns out that Bunce has a degree in International Business from Hong Kong University, he'll still likely appreciate a clear and simple explanation of the context. It helps him to understand the writer's intention and overall argument (that is, our intentions and overall arguments)!

So next time we cross a sentence that blinds us with boring confusion, that floors us with choppy and frightening syntax, let's: Stop! And tell Bunce what we're saying.

Bradley Woodrum also writes for Homebody and Woman and Cubs Stats and enjoys inventing words like "muscley."

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