For all you visual learners out there, let’s imagine the outline of your document as a bare-bones scaffold, draping off The Writer’s Triangle, just dangling in the breeze. Is that because your writing lacks context?
That’s where the triangle sits – inside the circle of context. So today, we’re going to pin your document to the circle, kind of like putting up a tent. We’re going to make it taut, give it an arc, and help it withstand the torrential winds of all those other publications out there with these 5 steps.
1) Check to see what has already been written. Depending on the kind of document you’re writing, you can do this in a few different ways. If you’re writing a letter to a client, read the letter they wrote you – carefully. Check their file with the company. Talk to their account manager. And ask your supervisor if there’s anything you should know.
When you’re writing a blog, do a Google Alert so you’re kept up to date on the keywords relevant to your own site. Subscribe to other blogs in your niche. And stay current on the news and trends in your own area.
And if you’re writing an academic article, do your literature review early in the research phase. Don’t wait until a few days before publication. It’s essential to know what has already been published so you know if your study is relevant or passé.
2) Take into account what other people have said. Remember those algebra classes you took in high school? You did all your homework, you got the right answer, but you still got a bad grade because you didn’t show your work.
Well, here’s where Algebra I meets the real world. Context is not a mental exercise. Do it in writing, and include it in the final document.
There’s no point in doing all the research unless you prove to your reader that you’ve done all the research. Your client wants to see that he’s been heard. Your blog reader wants reassurance that you are the expert in the field. And your journal editor will send your article out to peer reviewers who will analyze your literature review.
Prove to each of them just how dedicated you really are.
3) Define your terms. The circle of context doesn’t just sit in the background of The Writer’s Triangle. It’s contiguous with it – meaning the triangle touches the circle at all three of its points.
When you write your context into the document like I just described, you give your context an intimate connection with your author, audience, and purpose. And in upcoming blog posts, we’re going to talk about those three terms. I’m going to show you how to create solid foundations for each one of those points so that your document has the internal support to prop itself up.
Do you see how I just gave you definitions for context, contiguous, and The Writer’s Triangle? And do you see how those definitions were woven into the blog post in a natural, organic way? That’s how it’s done.
4) Identify gaps in the conversation. The most exciting part of contextual research is figuring out where you can make a difference. When you see something that hasn’t been said, stake your claim.
Again, in a letter to a client, this might look like an innovative solution leading to a collaborative relationship. On a blog, this might sound like your own take on an industry problem. And in an academic paper, this will be your interpretation of the data.
Remember, the ideas that seem simple and obvious to you are probably the very ideas that other people have never thought of before. Take the time to explain them. Be as clear and lucid as you can. You’ll be surprised at the reaction.
5) Find your voice. You want to use this opportunity to discover the appropriate language in which to write. Researching is an important tool in the brainstorming phase of The Writing Cycle. So as you proceed, jot down phrases and discover the right terminology.
But be careful not to become overwhelmed by the “machine” that is the infinite bureaucratic Orwellian newspeak. Stay authentic. Be true to yourself. Be respectful of the conversation’s tone, but don’t be intimidated by it.
As you identify the gaps, find your own rhythm and speak in the language that is natural to you. People will identify as much with how you say as with what you say.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. What others do you have for finding and developing Context within a document?
Mark your calendar: October 6 – FREE Webinar on The Writer’s Triangle. This 90-minute webinar will cover all aspects of Context, Author, Audience, Purpose. We’ll use real examples to apply the material directly to two radically different situations: writing for the web and crafting an academic journal article. This webinar is a precursor to an 8-week writing course centered on The Writing Cycle. Please join us! Registration details to be posted shortly.