Tag Archives: writing

Latin alphabet: timeline of influences and developments

3700 B.C.—Sumerians developed the idea of systemic phoneticism; used cuneiform which would be widely borrowed and adapted.

Systemic phoneticism—a tool for specifying isolated particles of information, such as transcribing foreign words or phonetically sounding out hard to identify signs that held several possible meanings. (History of Writing by Steven Roger Fischer)

Sumerian cunieform


3100 B.C.—Egyptian hieroglyphics emerged when the Egyptians borrowed the idea of writing, logography, phonography, and linearity with sequencing from the Sumerians.

Egyptian hieroglyphics
Egyptian hieroglyphics

2500 B.C.—Mesopotamian cuneiform script was complete; capable of conveying any and all thought.

Letter sent by the high-priest Lu’enna to the king of Lagash (maybe Urukagina), informing him of his son's death in combat. w:Clay tablet, c. 2400 BC, found in Telloh (ancient Girsu).
Letter sent by the high-priest Lu’enna to the king of Lagash (maybe Urukagina), informing him of his son’s death in combat. w:Clay tablet, c. 2400 BC, found in Telloh (ancient Girsu).

2000 B.C.—Egyptian scribes developed a 26 uniconsonantal sign alphabet which spread quickly among Egypt’s Semitic vassals, present in Egypt as slaves, mercenaries, and resident aliens.

1500 B.C.—Proto-Sinaitic derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics and was used in Caanan to write Caananite, the ancestral script of Phoenician and Hebrew. (BAS Library)

cuneiform tablet
Reverse of clay cuneiform tablet

1000 B.C.—The Phoenicians converted the Proto-Sinaitic pictorial Caananite alphabet to a simplified nonpictorial, Phoenician consonantal alphabet. All Western alphabets derive from this script.

"Pyrgi tablets". Laminated sheets of gold with a treatise both in Etruscan and Phoenician languages. From Etruscan Museum in Rome.
“Pyrgi tablets.”Laminated sheets of gold with a treatise both in Etruscan and Phoenician languages. From Etruscan Museum in Rome.

850 B.C.—The Greeks borrowed the Phoenician’s consonantal alphabet, finding it to be a faster and easier way for accountancy than syllabic writing; and added vowels.

Early Greek writing
Early Greek writiing


775 B.C.—The Etruscans were settled by the Greeks and borrowed the Greek alphabet to create the Euboean-Etruscan alphabet, which was Italy’s prevalent writing system until 200 B.C. when Etruria was assimilated into the Roman Empire.

650 B.C.—The Romans borrowed the Euboean-Etruscan alphabet to write Latin and spread a modified version, the Latin alphabet, throughout the Roman Empire.

55 B.C.—The first British exposure to the Roman alphabet took place when Julius Caesar first invaded Great Britain.

300 A.D.—The Romans developed uncial writing, a modification of square capital writing and the origin of present day lower-case letters.

600 A.D.—Christian missionaries from Ireland and Europe took the Latin alphabet to England where it replaced the Etruscan-influenced Germanic runic alphabet, Futhorc.

Example of Futhorc.
Front panel of the 7th century Frank’s casket.

100–1100 A.D.—Reign of Old English alphabet, a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon, and transition away from runic Futhorc alphabet. Beowulf is written in Old English.

Beowulf in Old English.
Beowulf in Old English.

1100–1450 A.D.—Reign of Middle English alphabet, the alphabet used to write Canterbury Tales.

Canterbury Tales
Canterbury Tales

1450 A.D.—Modern English alphabet emerges, the alphabet of Shakespeare and the Internet.

1927 A.D.—Television is first broadcast.

1950 A.D.—Emergence of Visual Language.

1961 A.D.—MIT develops Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) which allows up to 30 users to log in at the same time and share messages.

1980 A.D.—CompuServe’s CB Simulator simulates citizen’s band radio through text-based messages and user handles.

1982 A.D.—Emoticons were started by Scott Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor; Commodore 64 PC is released and includes Internet service.

1990s—U.S. schools begin to drop cursive writing from their curriculums.

1995 A.D.—Texting was introduced as a way for phone networks to communicate important messages to their subscribers.

1996 A.D.— Mirabulus launched ICQ; text-based messenger that reached broad online audience.

1997 A.D.—AOL launched AIM allows users to send messages to each other and create profiles, included away messages and icons.

1998—Yahoo Messenger, chat room service.

1999 A.D.—Microsoft releases MSN Messenger, which tells users when friends are online and enables them to exchange messages.

2000 A.D.—Jabber, a multiprotocol instant messenger allows users to users to chat with friends.

2003 A.D.—Skype, users can communicate with each other via video, voice, and instant messaging.

2004 A.D.—Facebook is founded.

2005 A.D.—Google Talk (Google Chat), appears in Gmail user’s window, allowing real-time communication with email contacts as long as they are online with Gmail.

2006 A.D.—MySpaceIM, users and instant message with each other on their desktops.

2008 A.D.—Facebook Chat, users can instant message with one or multiple people.

2011 A.D.—Facebook Messenger, a mobile app is released; users can message each other from their handheld devices; Apple announces iMessage.

2013 A.D.—Common Core ceases to require U.S. public schools to teach cursive handwriting. At least 41 U.S. states do not teach cursive reading or writing.

A great post about the history of our alphabet is on I Love Topography.

Strunk and White

The book was originally written in 1919 by Professor William Strunk Jr. and was self-published by the author. It was professionally published in 1935, then again in 1957, 1972, and 2000. It’s fair to say this book has stood the test of time.

Strunk and White Elements of Style consists of:

  • 11 Rules of Usage
  • 11 Principles of Composition
  • 21 Style Guidelines
  • Commonly Misused Words and Expressions
  • Glossary

From the introduction:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (page xvi)

Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine. (page xvii)


Where I work we argue a bit about how relevant Strunk and White remains, with some taking the position of fully committed fans and other wanting more freedom (translate wanting to be lazy and not understand/follow the rules of grammar or of good writing style.) I guess you can figure out where I fall on this controversy.

[Written on September 2016: I’m very sorry to do this. I realize this was a popular post and provides a comprehensive summary of the book. However, it occurs to me that my review may have gone too far. I have have revealed too much of the book and instead of mere commenting on the book and giving examples, I gave far too many examples and very few comments. For this reason, today I have chosen to delete much of this post. I recommend that you buy the book. It is a great resource for any writer.]



Rhetoric: Elocutio (Part 2): Ornament

Today’s post is about the part of Elocutio called Ornament (which is my favorite part). And it just happens to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is fitting because Martin Luther King, Jr. was quite eloquent.

In honor of him, I am including a link to his “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most eloquent speeches of all time.

Here’s the text of the speech.

The category of Ornament can be broken down into two categories: Schemes and Tropes.

Schemes are a figures of speech that change the ordinary arrangement of words in the sentence’s structure.

Tropes are words, phrases, even images used for artistic effect; a change in the general meaning of words.


accumulation: Accumulating arguments in a concise forceful manner.
adnomination: Repetition of words with the same root word.
alliteration: Series of words that begin with the same consonant.
adynaton: hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths insinuating a complete impossibility.
anacoluthon: Transposition of clauses to achieve an unnatural order of a sentence.
anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause and then at the beginning of its succeeding clause.
anaphora: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph.
anastrophe: Changing the object, subject and verb order in a clause.
anticlimax: An abrupt descent (either deliberate or unintended) on the part of a speaker or writer from the dignity of idea which he appeared to be aiming at.
antanaclasis: Repetition of a single word, but with different meanings.
anthimeria: Transformation of a word of a certain word class to another word class.
antimetabole: A sentence consisting of the repetition of words in successive clauses, in reverse order.
antirrhesis: Disproving an opponents argument.
antistrophe: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph in the end of sentences.
antithesis: Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas.
aphorismus: Statement that calls into question the definition of a word.
aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect.
apposition: Placing of two statements side by side, in which the second defines the first.
assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds.
asteismus: Mocking answer or humorous answer that plays on a word.
asterismos: Beginning a segment of speech with an exclamation of a word.
asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses.
cacophony: Words producing a harsh sound.
cataphora: Co-reference of one expression with another expression which follows it, in which the latter defines the first. (example: If you need one, there’s a towel in the top drawer.)
classification: Linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article
chiasmus: Two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point
climax: Arrangement of words in order of increasing importance
commoratio: Repetition of an idea, re-worded
conduplicatio: Repetition of a key word
conversion (word formation): An unaltered transformation of a word of one word class into another word class
consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse
dubitatio: Expressing doubt and uncertainty about oneself
dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis
ellipsis: Omission of words
elision: Exclusion of a letter from a word or phrase
enallage: Wording ignoring grammatical rules or conventions
enjambment: Incomplete syntax at the end of lines in poetry
enthymeme: An informal syllogism
epanalepsis: Ending sentences with how they begin. “Book ends”
epanodos: Word repetition.
epistrophe: (also known as antistrophe) Repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of successive clauses. The counterpart of anaphora
epizeuxis: Repetition of a single word, with no other words in between
euphony: Opposite of cacophony, i.e. pleasant sounding
half rhyme: Partially rhyming words
hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when it normally would consist of an adjective and a noun
hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea
homeoptoton: ending the last parts of words with the same syllable or letter.
homographs: Words we write identically but which have a differing meaning
homoioteleuton: Multiple words with the same ending
homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning
homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation, but different in meaning
homeoteleuton: Words with the same ending
hypallage: A transferred epitaph from a conventional choice of wording.
hyperbaton: Two ordinary associated words are detached. The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech which transpose natural word order in sentences.
hyperbole: Exaggeration of a statement
hypozeuxis: Every clause having its own independent subject and predicate
hysteron proteron: The inversion of the usual temporal or causal order between two elements
isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses
internal rhyme: Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence
kenning: Using a compound word neologism to form a metonym
merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
mimesis: Imitation of a person’s speech or writing
onomatopoeia: Word that imitates a real sound (e.g. tick-tock or boom)
paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair “neither” and “nor”
parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses
paraprosdokian: Unexpected ending or truncation of a clause
parenthesis: A parenthetical entry
paroemion: Alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter
parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, in a situation where it is unexpected (i.e. politics)
pleonasm: The use of additional words than are needed to express meaning
polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root
polysyndeton: Close repetition of conjunctions
pun: When a word or phrase is used in two(or more) different senses
rhythm: A synonym for parallelism
sibilance: Repetition of letter ‘s’, it is a form of alliteration
sine dicendo: An inherently superfluous statement, the truth-value of which can easily be taken for granted (e.g. ‘It’s always in the last place you look.’)
solecism: Trespassing grammatical and syntactical rules
spoonerism: Switching place of syllables within two words in a sentence yielding amusement
superlative: Declaring something the best within its class i.e. the ugliest, the most precious
synathroesmus: Agglomeration of adjectives to describe something or someone
syncope: Omission of parts of a word or phrase
symploce: Simultaneous use of anaphora and epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning and the end of successive clauses
synchysis: Words that are intentionally scattered to create perplexment
synesis: Agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form
synecdoche: Referring to a part by its whole or vice versa
synonymia: Use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence
tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice
tmesis: Insertions of content within a compound word
zeugma: The using of one verb for two or more actions


accismus: expressing the want of something by denying it
allegory: Extended metaphor in which a symbolic story is told
allusion: Covert reference to another work of literature or art
ambiguity: Phrasing which can have two meanings
anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker
analogy: A comparison
anapodoton: Leaving a common known saying unfinished
antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses
anthimeria: Transformating a word’s word class
anthropomorphism: Ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism)
antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, but in switched order
antiphrasis: A name or a phrase used ironically.
antistasis: Repetition of a word in a different sense.
antonomasia: Substitution of a proper name for a phrase or vice versa
aphorism: Briefly phrased, easily memorable statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
apologia: Justifying one’s actions
aporia: Faked or sincere puzzled questioning
apophasis: (Invoking) an idea by denying its (invocation)
appositive: Insertion of a parenthetical entry
apostrophe: Directing the attention away from the audience to an absent third party, often in the form of a personified abstraction or inanimate object.
archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic, word (a word used in olden language, e.g. Shakespeare’s language)
auxesis: Form of hyperbole, in which a more important sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term
bathos: Pompous speech with a ludicrously mundane worded anti-climax
burlesque metaphor: An amusing, overstated or grotesque comparison or examplification.
catachresis: Blatant misuse of words or phrases.
categoria: Candidly revealing an opponent’s weakness
cliché: Overused phrase or theme
circumlocution: Talking around a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis
commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience
congeries: Accumulation of synonymous or different words or phrases together forming a single message
correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one’s mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis
dehortatio: discouraging advice given with seeming sagacity
denominatio: Another word for metonymy
diatyposis: The act of giving counsel
double negative: Grammar construction that can be used as an expression and it is the repetition of negative words
dirimens copulatio: Juxtaposition of two ideas with a similar message
distinctio: Defining or specifying the meaning of a word or phrase you use
dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism
dubitatio: Expressing doubt over one’s ability to hold speeches, or doubt over other ability
ekphrasis: Lively describing something you see, often a painting
epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue
encomium: A speech consisting of praise; a eulogy
enumeratio: A sort of amplification and accumulation in which specific aspects are added up to make a point
epicrisis: Mentioning a saying and then commenting on it
epiplexis: Rhetorical question displaying disapproval or debunks
epitrope: Initially pretending to agree with an opposing debater or invite one to do something
erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question
erotesis: Rhetorical question expressing approvement or refusal of belief in
euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
grandiloquence: Pompous speech
exclamation: A loud calling or crying out
humor: Provoking laughter and providing amusement
hyperbaton: Words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect
hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
hypocatastasis: An implication or declaration of resemblance that does not directly name both terms
hypophora: Answering one’s own rhetorical question at length
hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events; a form of hyperbaton
innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
invective: The act of insulting
inversion: A reversal of normal word order, especially the placement of a verb ahead of the subject (subject-verb inversion).
imperative sentence: The urging to do something
irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning
kataphora: Repetition of a cohesive device at the end
litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite
malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar
meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something
merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
metalepsis: Figurative speech is used in a new context
metaphor: Figurative language
metonymy: A thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept
neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism
non sequitur: Statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding
occupatio: Mentioning something by reportedly not mentioning it
onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning
oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other
par’hyponoian: Replacing in a phrase or text a second part, that would have been logically expected.
parable: Extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
paradiastole: Making a euphemism out of what usually is considered adversive
paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
paradiastole: Extenuating a vice in order to flatter or soothe
paraprosdokian: Phrase in which the latter part causes a rethinking or reframing of the beginning
paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over
parody: Humoristic imitation
paronomasia: Pun, in which similar sounding words but words having a different meaning are used
pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human conduct and feelings to nature
periphrasis: A synonym for circumlocution
personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena
pleonasm: The use of more words than is necessary for clear expression
praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis
procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument
proslepsis: Extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic
prothesis: Adding a syllable to the beginning of a word
proverb: Succinct or pithy, often metaphorical, expression of wisdom commonly believed to be true
pun: Play on words that will have two meanings
rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Asking a question which already has the answer hidden in it. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect)
satire: Humoristic criticism of society
sensory detail imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
sesquipedalianism: use of long and obscure words
simile: Comparison between two things using like or as
snowclone: Alteration of cliché or phrasal template
style: how information is presented
superlative: Saying that something is the best of something or has the most of some quality, e.g. the ugliest, the most precious etc.
syllepsis: The use of a word in its figurative and literal sense at the same time or where a single word is used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one
syncatabasis (condescension, accommodation): adaptation of style to the level of the audience
synchoresis: A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force.
synecdoche: Form of metonymy, referring to a part by its whole, or a whole by its part
synesthesia: Description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another.
tautology: Superfluous repetition of the same sense in different words Example: The children gathered in a round circle
transferred epithet: A synonym for hypallage.
truism: a self-evident statement
tricolon diminuens: Combination of three elements, each decreasing in size
tricolon crescens: Combination of three elements, each increasing in size
verbal paradox: Paradox specified to language
zeugma: Use of a single verb to describe two or more actions
zoomorphism: Applying animal characteristics to humans or gods

Many thanks to YouTube and to Wikipedia for supplying the content that has made this post possible. I will be modifying and linking to this post over the next few so stay tuned!

The 5 canons of rhetoric


Inventio (invention)—method used for the discovery of the proper arguments to use; thought process to form an effective argument; the first direction of invention aims at deriving heuristic procedures to aid in discovering and generating ideas to write about; the second direction is how writers establish “voice” in writing.

Disposito (arrangement)—the system used for the organization of arguments into an effective discourse: introduction, the statement of the case, outline of the major points in the argument, the proof of the case, refutation of possible opposing arguments, and conclusion.

Elocutio (style) the mastery of stylistic elements to craft speeches and writing; the four ingredients necessary in order to achieve good style included correctness, clearness, appropriateness, and ornament. 

Memori (memory)—the discipline of recalling the arguments of a discourse; the orator has to have at his/her command a wide body of knowledge to permit improvisation, to respond to questions, and to refute opposing arguments

Pronuntiatio or actio (delivery)—the discipline of delivering speeches; the use of voice and gestures to deliver speeches; instructions on the proper modulation of the voice (volume and pitch), as well as the phrasing, pace, and emphasis of speech; the physical aspects of oration: stance, gestures, posture, and facial expressions.

Word of the Day: Heuristic


To me, heuristic is a $50 word. It’s a word I hear bandied about from time to time by “educated” people, people who I must acquiesce are much smarter than I—people who are not satisfied to just study engineering, but they also have to study law. Those people. The types who fix supercolliders for a living.

Heuristic—it’s a scary word—no Latin root here. Telling you that it’s of Greek origin might give you a clue to its meaning.

Heuristic is a word that comes up around the topic of problem solving. I get this image in my mind of the ancient Greeks, sitting around, marveling at the universe, coming up with ideas like democracy and atoms. No computers. Wars aplenty.

So what are you going to do when you want to solve a problem? Well, I suppose you’d get together some techniques. Me, personally, I would overthink it to death and then give up, but not so with the Greeks. The Greeks are going to get it done, even if they have to give you something that is “good enough.” It might not be the ultimate truth, but it will do in a pinch. That’s where the connection to engineering comes in. In engineering, you have limits: budget, tools, brainpower, time, whatever. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. You need to find a solution—yesterday.

I am guessing that heuristics might not be the choice tool of the perfectionist, to whom “good enough” is never the correct solution. Idealism, perfectionism, pish posh.

Heuristic methods speed up your search; they help you discover; they are mental shortcuts that lessen the mental load.

If someone threatens your livelihood, demanding that you solve a problem yesterday and thus causing your brain to freeze up with stress, causing you to listen to Rodrigo y Gabriela for hours on end to calm the terrifying prospect of failure, you pull out some heuristic methods to get the job done.

Here are some examples of heuristics:

  • Trial and error
  • Rule of thumb
  • Making an educated guess
  • Stereotyping
  • Profiling
  • Common sense

Or, some more concrete techniques:

  • Drawing a picture when you can’t understand a problem
  • Working backward
  • Examining a concrete example to tackle an abstract problem

Moving away from engineering into the realm of psychology, the term “heuristics” refers to simple, efficient rules which are learned or instinctual that shed insight into how people make decisions (come to judgments and solve complex problems or when faced with incomplete information).

In a nutshell, heuristics are the bane of my existence. Those using heuristics are satisfied with the solution that is good enough; this, of course, offends my inner core of idealism. They allow you to side step incomplete information. How many times have I felt that people have made inaccurate judgments about me because they were satisfied with working with incomplete information, instead of just talking with me directly. Ah! Curses! Heuristics!

To be fair, I use heuristics all the time. Sometimes you just don’t have access to your expert and you need to get the work done, so you make the educated guess. You toss that guess out into the universe to see if it gets shot down—80% of the time, it flies.

Heuristics. (experience-based techniques for problem solving that help you find an OK solution.)


Clarity Tips

  1. Be concise; delete needless words. Inversion
  2. Choose the right word carefully; favor the short word over the long.
  3. Do not needlessly repeat words, phrases, or ideas; do not repeat what is needed for clarity.
  4. Favor the active voice over the passive.
  5. Be specific, use concrete terms, and avoid abstract nouns (shun “-tion”).
  6. Avoid dangling modifiers; place modifiers as near as possible to what they modify. 
  7. Take care in the placement of parenthetical phrases.
  8. Avoid shifts in subject, number, tense, voice, or viewpoint.
  9. Express parallel thoughts through parallel construction.
  10. Arrange thoughts logically; work from the simple to the more complex.

Source: Hansen (1991). Random piece of paper collected from the pile of graduate school notes that have been residing on the floor of my home office.

6 + 1 Writing Traits: Presentation

PresentationIt’s almost the new year and we have arrived at the seventh trait: Presentation. You’ve done all that work. Now you think you’re ready to share it with your audience—maybe with the world. Careful! Not so fast…

Presentation combines both visual and verbal elements—it is the way we ‘exhibit’ our message on paper. Even if our ideas, words, and sentences are vivid, precise, and well constructed, our paper will not be inviting to read unless the guidelines of presentation are observed. Think about examples of text and presentation in your environment. Which signs and billboards attract your attention? Why do you reach for one CD over another? All great writers are aware of the necessity of presentation; particularly technical writers who must include graphs, maps, and visual instructions with their text.
—Source: random piece of paper @ 2004 from a graduate course that I recently retrieved from the floor of my home-office

They say “the clothes make the man,” and so it is with Presentation. Writers are at a bit of a disadvantage here. We’ve done all this work, but the whole thing will completely fall apart without a good presentation. In my world, it all comes down to graphic design. I can do “the small stuff” like ensure that conventions are followed, but in the end, how my work is received depends greatly on the alignment/combination of text with graphic design. If it looks good, people will pay attention to it, and if it doesn’t, they won’t.

This concludes this series on the 6 + 1 Analytical Model for Assessing Writing. Thanks for reading!

Soon, I will posting a longer series on rhetoric. Up until I attended the university, I had a very narrow view of what rhetoric was. But I soon came to learn that the field of rhetoric is vast, complex, and interesting. Do these “old-fashioned” word puzzles have real power we can apply today?


6 + 1 Writing Traits: Voice

In a nutshell, “Voice” is what you have when you get a sense of the writer’s personality from reading his/her words. You can’t see the writer’s face, but you get a sense of who they are from their voice.

The Voice is the writer coming through the words, the sense that a real person is speaking to us and cares about the message. It is the heart and soul of the writing, the magic, the wit, the feeling, the life and breath. When the writer is engaged personally with the topic, he/she imparts a personal tone and flavor to the piece that is unmistakably his/hers alone. And it is that individual something—different from the mark of all other writers—that we call voice.
—Source: random piece of paper @ 2004 from a graduate course that I recently retrieved from the floor of my home-office

People often have a characteristic rhythm to their speech and an overall perspective. The voice of a company comes across as the sense of perspective you get from reading the company’s literature. What kind of “person” are we? Are we intelligent? Coddling? Liberal? Wild? Direct? Indirect? That all comes across in voice.

Literature provides some great examples of voice:

Dr. Strauss says I should rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont no why but he says its importint so they will see if they can use me. I hope they use me becaus Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Sergey Ulasen is not the sort of person you’d expect to find at the center of an international incident. The thirty-one-year-old Belarusian has close-cropped blond hair, a lean boyish frame, and the open face and affable demeanor of someone who goes through life attracting few enemies and even fewer controversies.
Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter

But after a month or so I began to hesitate again. It struck me that it was playing it a bit low-down on the poor chap, avoiding him like this just when he probably wanted his pals to surge round him most. I pictured him sitting in his lonely studio with no company but his bitter thoughts, and the pathos of it got me to such an extent that I bounded straight into a taxi and told the driver to go all out for the studio.
Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Once these preparations were completed, he was anxious to wait no longer before putting his ideas into effect, impelled to this by the thought of the loss the world suffered by his delay, seeing the grievances there were to redress, the wrongs to right, the injuries to amend, the abuses to correct, and the debts to discharge.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

With each passing year she looked more like a human being. (I can’t say as much for most of my friends.) I felt embarrassed changing my clothes in front of her. My friend Sevostyanov used to say, ‘She’s the only normal member of your family.’
Ours: A Russian Family Album by Sergei Dovlatov

‘You are surrounded by loving machines, hating machines, greedy machines, unselfish machines, brave machines, cowardly machines, truthful machines, lying machines, funny machines, solemn machines,’ he read. ‘Their only purpose is to stir you up in every conceivable way, so the Creator of the Universe can watch your reactions. They can no more feel or reason than grandfather clocks.’
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

These are a few examples of Voice and there are many, many others, of course. From the examples above, test yourself. Who is the speaker? What kind of person are they? Why do you think so? Are they reliable? Do you trust them? Do you want to hang out with them? Are they interesting? Entertaining? Honest? Smart? Dependable? Exhausting? Someone you’d trust with your money? Or, your wife?

The question I encounter is how do you write as though you were someone else? And this is how I break it down:

If I’m a smart person, I’m going to give you some facts. I’m not going to hedge. I can prove it and I will.

If I’m an honest person, I’m going to take a stand on an issue. You might not like where I stand, but I’m going to let you decide. I’m not going to take that away from you. You’ll know who I am. You know you can trust me because I’ve trusted you with something you might not like about me. Something that might make you decide to walk away. I’ve taken that risk even though I want you to stay—maybe more than anything.

If I’m reliable, I’m going to keep my word. I’ll do what I say. How does this come across in voice? I’m not sure, but I won’t be doing a lot of talking. My reliability is so much a part of me that I don’t have to prove it. I don’t have to rely on cunning or an excess of words and explanation. I am straightforward; I use direct speech with little embellishment.

If I’m an innovative person, an inventor, a leading edge thought leader, I’m going to be excited about that. I’m going to have a passion for discovery. I might talk a little more quickly and display a little more energy. There’s an inner happiness that stems from my joy of discovery that I’m going to share with you. I want you to come along with me. I want you to see the cool things that I see.

Well, anyway, that’s how I perceive Voice.

Assessing Voice

  • Does the reader feel a strong interaction with the writer? Do you sense a person/personality behind the words?
  • Writer reveals who they are, their attitudes, opinions. They take a risk.
  • You find yourself thinking about and reacting to the writer’s point of view.



6 + 1 Writing Traits: Organization

organizeTell-tale signs that you might be having problems with organization are when you hear people say: “I don’t think this flows well.” Or: “It seems disjointed.”

The reader is always right. So, as hard as it is to hear, I try to listen when people say these things.

Organization is the internal structure of a piece of writing, the thread of central meaning, the pattern, so long as it fits the central idea well. Organizational structure can be based on comparison-contrast, deductive logic, point-by-point analysis, development of a central theme, chronological history of an event, or any of a dozen other identifiable patterns. When the organization is strong, the piece begins meaningfully and creates in the writer a sense of anticipation that is ultimately, systematically fulfilled. Events proceed logically: information is given to the reader in the right doses at the right times so that the reader never loses interest and never the ‘big picture’—the overriding sense of what the writer is driving at. Connections are strong, which is another way of saying that bridges from one idea to the next hold up. The piece closes with a sense of resolution, tying up loose ends, bringing things to closure, answering important questions while still leaving the reader something to think about.
—Source: random piece of paper @ 2004 from a graduate course that I recently retrieved from the floor of my home-office

After you explain what organization is, then you may have to explain how your piece is organized. This is hard for people who “just feel it.” They feel a piece of writing; they feel a piece of art. It works or it doesn’t, but they can’t tell you why. They are unable to deconstruct it. For them, doing that is equivalent to “showing the man behind the curtain”—at which point, the writing looses its magic.

Assessing Organization

  • Have you introduced your topic to your reader in an interesting way?
  • Have you concluded your point in a way that gives a sense of resolution?
  • Do transitions between ideas and sentences and paragraphs exist? Are they smooth? Do they follow logically?
  • Is the separation between elements, ideas, paragraphs natural and appropriate?


Whether it hurts your brain or not, if you care about your writing, you’ll put some thought into how its organized. Maybe the lights will come on, and you’ll see places for improvement. At the very least, you’ll be able to explain your thinking.



6 + 1 Trait Analytical Model for Assessing and Teaching Writing

Uniontown Night Sept 2014 field sittingToday I am beginning a series of posts about the craft of writing. This is information I got while studying writing as a graduate student at Portland State University. I have internalized some of these points, but many are concepts that I am still working on. I’m posting them here to get them off the floor of my home-office and into a handy place where I can refer back to them.

First of all, maybe it goes without saying but writing is very personal to us all. Even with the driest of material, writing is still a form of self expression, so when you work with writing and with writers, it’s helpful to always be aware of this fact. The gruffest of us seem to be the most sensitive, and anyone who tells me they have thick skin is immediately suspect.

My personal strategy is to try to keep it separated. My creative writing is writing I do on my own time. As Bob Ross would say: “It’s my own little world.” I can do anything I want to with it.

My work writing is for work. I don’t own it. They do. I’m there as a facilitator, cheerleader, project manager, researcher, idea bringer, collaborator, and doctor. It’s important to have a good “bedside manner.” Critical, in fact. Organized flexibility is key. An ego impervious to those who will thoughtlessly walk all over it is paramount. So, as sensitive as I can often be, I am fortunate to have an ego that takes it on the chin, for the most part.

There is competition to do the writing. From engineer to assembler, everyone seems to want to do it. Very few know how to qualify good writing, and many of us fall into that awful trap of subjectivity when we try to pass judgement. That means that sometimes good writing is overlooked, and sometimes bad writing is preferred.

The 6 + 1 Trait Analytical Model for assessing and teaching writing consists of seven qualities. (This is what I got from my “technical” writing courses. No fluffiness here.)

I’ll go into each of these more in later posts, but briefly, the key qualities are:

  1. Ideas—the heart of the message
  2. Organization—the internal structure of the piece
  3. Voice—the personal tone and flavor of the author’s message
  4. Word Choice—the vocabulary a writer chooses to convey meaning
  5. Sentence Fluency—the rhythm and flow of the language
  6. Conventions—the mechanical correctness
  7. Presentation—how the writing actually looks on the page