July 6th, 2011

Writing Wrongs #1: Chasing Squirrels

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has a bad case of ADD?  There you are, sobbing out your life story and describing how Gomez was so mean to you when suddenly–Squirrel! The subject is changed to that clever little squirrel raiding the bird feeder, and the whole impact of your poor-poor-pitiful-me story is lost in the dust.

Here’s the thing.  When you’re telling a story (and, yes, this includes writing a paper or an essay!), you carefully build your narrative to make the greatest impact on the reader (or listener).  All that effort gets wasted if your reader or your listener is lured away by a clever little squirrel with super-cute chubby cheeks.

How do readers get lured away?  Mostly it’s because the writer strayed off-topic and went down an interesting side path instead of staying on track.

One of the greatest keys to writing well is to keep your focus on the main point.  Remember when you’re writing a paper of, say, 5 pages, you don’t have a lot of words…maybe 1200 or 1500 in all.  In that amount of space, you’re definitely not going to solve global warming or institute world peace.  So your topic has to be sized appropriately to the length of your paper.

Even if you’re writing something longer–a thesis or a dissertation–it’s essential to limit your efforts to a very specific topic. I’d be willing to bet that if you were to ask anyone who has been on a thesis committee about the most common problems they see in student papers, having too general a topic–one that’s unfocused and too broad–would be right up there near the top.

Frankly, even if you’re writing an actual book, you still have to be concerned about not letting the book wander all over the place.  Keeping your focus is important for any type of writing.

Just remember to stick to the point!  Stay on track with the specific point or points you want to make, and don’t let that clever little squirrel lead you astray.

He may be as cute as all get-out, but that little cutie-pie squirrel will ruin your paper for sure! (Not to mention he’ll eat up all your peanuts.)

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