Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Contrapuntal Writing on the Internet

There are different styles and structures of good writing for different purposes. A formal academic paper features a clear early thesis presentation, followed by organized development and support for that thesis. Journalistic writing features the inverted pyramid, in which the most important parts of the story come first.

I've written a lot of formal academic papers. As a teacher, I've repeatedly attempted to convey the basic principles of this style.

But in grad school, I had one professor who taught us to write contrapuntally. This writing involves not formal thesis development, but an intelligent exploration of issues with connections across various and occasionally quite different subjects. It is almost a formal stream-of-consciousness, with one idea leading to another idea which can lead to an entirely separate idea based on some connection. It's not a random throwing out of ideas; rather, it's a way to show connections between and across divergent topics. In truth, I'm so used to the formal academic essay that I have difficulty even describing contrapuntal writing. But I know how to do it, and I know it when I see it.

But contrapuntal writing goes hand in hand with contrapuntal thinking; more than a way to write, it is another way to think. The formation and organization of ideas is different.

And the internet is perfect for contrapuntal writing. Paid writers still have editors online (I assume), but because they are not limited by page space, all sorts of diversions and tangents become acceptable (see Bill Simmons). And bloggers are often contrapuntal writers and thinkers--a blog entry can be a formally organized essay around a single unified thesis, but just as often it is a contrapuntal exploration of ideas and connections (see FreeDarko).

1 comment:

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