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Writing for Empirical Thinkers

I am returning to the classroom after a few years away, and I’m beginning to gather my thoughts on how to approach my role. As a teacher of the English language, I consider my role pivotal in a society so corrupt of adequate communication skills. Today’s American intelligentsia puts a (well-intentioned) premium on mathematical and logical thinking. For almost any question of policy, medicine, education, etc., the plaintiff will present raw empirical evidence. The issue, however, is this — that the lion’s share of our population is not equipped to digest raw data.


I was once asked to help my brilliant young cousin with his middle school writing assignment. His issue was not one of intelligence, but one of talent. His high-functioning empirical mind led him to believe that writing simply wasn’t for him. Below is how I explained that it was:


In both basic algebra and communication the same method is at play. We use information at hand to reach conclusions. As a math problem, this can be seen below. With information represented by i.


(i^x+i^x)^x=I


In English, this translates to: (Information to an unlimited power+another piece of information to an unlimited power) both operating at a power limited only by the speaker, or writer’s base of knowledge or research=a communicated piece of information formed by the sum of the information at play.


But what is this information? Fortunately, you need only to understand the basis of any good detective novel to fill in the variables. Simply knowing who, what, when, where, why and how will get you as far as ninety percent of all great writers who have ever walked the earth. Take the following sentence for example:


Jack uses his day’s wages to order a drink at a bar after work, needing to cool down after an argument with his boss.


Algebraically, this can be reduced to the following:


Who(Jack)+How(uses his day’s wages)+What(order a drink)+When(after work)+Where(at a bar)+Why(needing to cool down after an argument with his boss)=S (Sentance)


Reduced simply to variables, we get the following:


w+h+wt+wn+we+wy=S


From there, sentences become building blocks of information for a written work in the same way that lines of code become building blocks of information for a computer program. Sentences (s) begin to stack into paragraphs by simple addition:


(s+s)^x=P


Paragraphs (p) begin to stack into essays, stories, dissertations, etc. For the sake of the formula, we will assume this is a fiction story(FS):


(p+p)^x=FS


After that, all that is left to do is simplify. This means removing the “assumed information.” Looking at our example, we can remove the assumed information.


Jack uses his day’s wages to order a drink at a bar after work, needing to cool down after an argument with his boss.


We remove the following for the following reasons:

  • “At a bar” — This information is assumed using the information “order a drink.”

  • “After work” — This information is assumed using the information “after an argument with his boss.”

  • “Needing to cool down.” — This information is assumed using the information “after an argument with his boss.”

When we remove the assumed, and otherwise unnecessary information we have the following sentence:


Jack uses his day’s wages to order a drink after an argument with his boss.


This is a cleaner sentence, and therefore, a cleaner formula:


Who(Jack)+How(uses his day’s wages)+What(order a drink)+Why(after an argument with his boss)=S (Sentance)


As a pure equation:


w+h+wt+wy=S


In mathematics, we simplify. In written communication we edit. In both situations, this is done for clarity. In fiction specifically, this is done for clarity and to make the act of reading more pleasurable.

Now, one may ask why “uses his day’s wages” wasn’t removed from the sentence. It could have been. However, it does contain pivotal information about the relationship between Jack(w) and the nature of the argument between him and his boss (wy). Take away the information and the sentence reads as follows:


Jack orders a drink after an argument with his boss.


or


w+wt+wy=S


This sentence is cleaner, no doubt, but it also lacks information about the relationship between Jack and his boss. In understanding that Jack is a day laborer, the assumption is that his boss holds great power over him, therefore ratcheting up the intensity of the consequences of arguing with him/her/etc.


The ultimate goal of written communication is to pack the most amount of information into the tightest line (equation) as possible.


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