On Wednesday, I told you that we’re on the hunt for some new Ethos team members. Since then, I’ve gotten resumes, writing samples–and questions. Questions about Ethos, about the blog, about writing. And as I look over them, I keep coming back to one core idea: what is Ethos all about?
Emily and Thaddeus talked about this just last month. Here’s what they wrote: “See, here is the cool thing. ALL the arguments and skills used in debate rounds are successful because they mirror something much more potent in the real world. Ethos seeks to teach students the real version of what will help them in their career.”
That idea permeates everything we do here–including writing for the blog. Writing for Ethos doesn’t mean just honing ‘blog-writing skills;’ it means practicing real-world communication. You might be writing a 1AC, or a personal blog post, or a news article, or a business proposal, but whatever it is, it should have a couple of main elements. They’re the same main elements we want to see in an Ethos post. And while these ingredients aren’t earth-shattering, they’re still important–not just for teaching debate principles, but for communicating any idea.
Tip 1: Start with structure. Each post should have a clear, balanced structure. No, it does not have to be a stock five-point essay format (academia already has quite enough of those), but it should have a logical layout and each point should be developed equally. Confirm the topic, develop context and background information, discuss why it matters, and what should be done about it. Jot a quick outline first, so you know where you’re going, then start sketching in the details.
Tip 2: Minimize the abstract. Of course, theory is important. Each Ethos post should have some. It needs to be there to set up the context, the ‘why’ of each skill or topic. But it shouldn’t be the meat of the post. Don’t get bogged down in rhetorical concepts. By themselves, they don’t provide much practical help for that second-year debater who just wants to know how to improve their Negative strategy. Instead, have some practical application that explains how to use this theory in a real round—or in the real world. Always show the reader how they can use this information.
Tip 3: Use concrete examples. Any time you’re explaining an abstract concept or a new technique, give concrete examples. Have you ever played that game where you have to assemble a Lego creation just by reading a sheet of generic instructions? You keep trying to figure out where to put that one green piece, but it doesn’t make any sense until you see a model—or at least a diagram. It’s the same thing with teaching debate. Nobody has any idea how to write a 1AC or run a kritik or construct a disadvantage until they see an example.
Tip 4: Write conversationally. In many, if not all, academic papers, there are a myriad of rules and conventions that require the utilization of formal and structured language. Professors typically appreciate and reward students who demonstrate a thorough understanding of grammar and syntax, as well as the loftier phraseology of the higher echelons of academia. Thus, certain informal, contemporary phrases and contractions are frowned upon, and passive voice is prevalent, permeating each phrase and construct.
Did you care about anything I just said?
Maybe. But probably not.
That style of language is fine for a 20-page research paper (especially when you need to boost your word count), but it’s not great for communicating with normal people. Instead: simplify, simplify, simplify. Think about the absurdity of Rube Goldberg’s machines, and instead of saying, “The debater was intimidated by the lengthy and aggressive assault begun by the opposing speaker in the 1NC,” just say, “His opponent launched an aggressive assault.” Get out of research paper mode and write conversationally.
Bonus Tip: Use headings. This one depends on the platform and context. Not everyone uses this method, but we do here at Ethos. Instead of slapping 800 words up in a block of text, break it up a little. At each major transition point, include a basic headline. This keeps things organized, makes it more accessible to the readers, and keeps their eyes moving.
Of course, there’s more to good writing then just following a formula. Each person will have a different style and will use these tools in different ways. If you think you might be interested in adding your unique voice to the Ethos team, just let me know! Send a quick note and a writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org.