Chiseling words: Writing as sculpture

OUR WORLD IS BURSTING at the seams with ever more text. Good writing provides relief from this inflationary pressure: Like a sculpture, a strong text will surface thanks to a subtractive process, as its author chips away at surplus material, cutting things down to their core.

Words small and strong

BUILD YOUR TEXT with short rather than long words; it will pack all the more punch. Long words take time to read, because our minds can only process small amounts of data at once. If you bundle thorny words next to each other, you will turn your text into a thicket and reading into a…

Illustrations for the penniless

ILLUSTRATIONS ARE ESSENTIAL to digital content. Just imagine, for example, a webpage that is merely a wall of text. Regardless of how pertinent it may be for its intended public, it would be dead on arrival. To spruce up their publications, many companies thus hire photographers and graphic artists, subcontract artwork, and subscribe to stock…

Social media copy

THERE IS MORE to posts and tweets than the art of self-promotion. Social media provides a degree of public feedback that simply does not exist in other fields of intellectual output. While often addictive and disruptive, this can also be constructive—allowing us to experiment and obtain instantaneous returns with only moderate effort. Social media, in…

Bringing quotations to life

A RICH AND VIVID TEXT likely will include voices other than your own. When you share analysis or tell a story, you almost inevitably draw on characters from your readings, fieldwork, or life experience, whom you will paraphrase or directly cite. In writing, these interjections often appear between quotation marks, which prompt the reader to…

Paragraphs in progression

A READABLE TEXT flows through a sequence of paragraphs, each of which serves a distinctive function. While experienced writers tend to build that succession instinctively, even the best can benefit from slowing down and identifying precisely what effects they are trying to achieve at each step. Knowing a paragraph’s intended function will help focus its…

Editing playbook

WHEN YOU EDIT a text, you must become a self-conscious reader. As you read, take note, literally, of your reactions. Your basic benchmark is the document’s readability. Don’t be satisfied with second-guessing what the author meant: If you don’t understand right away, neither will others. You can improve a text tremendously in very simple ways,…

Drawing conclusions

THE PURPOSE OF A TEXT is to lead the reader somewhere, which means it cannot end in a wasteland—that is, without a conclusion. The introduction sets the direction, and the body signposts the way. The conclusion says “you have arrived,” ideally after a rewarding journey. Sometimes it is announced as such—with a title that gives away its…

Making introductions

DO YOURSELF A FAVOR: Learn how to grab your audience in the first few sentences you write. A good introduction is an inspiration, like the deep breath before a plunge. Give your readers a moment to inhale, take in the importance of what you are about to discuss, and prepare to dive wholeheartedly into this…

Pointed phrases

GOOD WRITING transports the reader, almost literally. It takes him or her from one idea to the next, from an emotional state to another, from a general understanding to a more nuanced one, or from the past to the present. Each sentence powers this overall motion, one movement at a time. Picture a game of…

Moderating a panel

IF WE’RE HONEST with ourselves, we’ll admit that many conferences we attend prove disappointing, if not an utter bore. Most often, the topic is interesting, the speakers qualified, the venue pleasant, and the audience motivated. Moreover, an enormous amount of effort and money go into the logistics of such events. How could it all go…

The mechanics of Arab visual identity

A WELL-ROUNDED PHOTOGRAPHER, Ammar Abd Rabbo has covered, over the past 25 years, anything from catwalks to military parades, and back, from political leaders to ordinary citizens taking them on. Throughout his career, he has opted for provocative, uncompromising views: condemning the esthetics of misery rewarded by photography prizes; embracing unapologetically the Syrian uprising, which he…