Keepin’ It Short

I’ve been writing a lot more lately. In addition to emails, comments to students on assignments, and essays, I agreed to be the blog and news coordinator of Omaha Bikes. Although I didn’t agree to be the sole generator of content for this site, I end up writing a few posts a month.

It reminds of me of when I was in college and took a news writing class the same semester I took college writing. One was about getting to the point fast and then unfolding the information in subsequent paragraphs. The other was about constructing arguments with evidence and taking my time explaining my definitions and citing sources for my interpretations. At the time, I was learning how to write. And it was a struggle. It was a struggle from which I learned about the differences in purposes and styles of writing, but a struggle nonetheless. Now that much of my career is based around writing, I find engaging in different kinds of writing to be refreshing and still a learning experience.

When I write for the blog, I know that I need to focus on an idea and unpack it quickly. If my audience is average internet users, then I want to keep the entry short (and by that I mean just a few paragraphs). By contrast, a short essay for an academic audience is 5,000 words. (To give you a comparison, this post contains 394 words.) Two other differences I’ve noticed are topic selection and voice. Of course, I want to write about things that will grab my audience and appeal broadly rather than make a contribution to rhetorical theory. The subject of voice is interesting. I think that when I was in that undergraduate college writing class, I tried to cultivate what I thought was an academic voice. Later, in graduate school, I shed that voice in favor of a more plain style. Having confidence that my ideas were intelligent and complex, I sought to explain them as simply as I could and with the best evidence I knew. And I still use that approach in my academic writing today. However, even though I try to write eloquently and parsimoniously for academic audiences, my voice in the blog posts is more conversational, more inviting. And that is probably because I’m thinking about my audience again and wanting to keep my audience’s attention.

With that in mind, I’m off to work on a short essay (5,000 words) that I hope to get done by the end of the year.


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