[Author’s note: This is part 2 in a series of articles written primarily as a sort of online workshop-slash-discussion hook to get writers and authors in our organization or those with similar interests to share writing tips, techniques, and style guides with others. Feel free to pitch in and throw your own two-cents on how to improve your craft.]
Part 1 –Writing a Social Commentary
This article describes in greater detail the ‘Research Paper’ mode of writing as introduced in Part 1. As the name implies, it is more fact-based and makes heavy use of citations from other sources to support the writer’s chosen thesis. It is the most formal of the three and is closest to the prose format prescribed in the academe. But since this is a blog post, some room for informality may be allowed to cede to the writer’s artistic discretion.
A good article of this genre consolidates news and data from may different quality sources, giving readers the highlights and other pertinent selections from the source material that is relevant to the over-arcing topic. Of course, you have to be well read on the topic first so you can choose from the best sources. Different news sources, authors, and reporters all have personal biases or approach the issue from different angles so you have to do a good deal of comparison beforehand. Like shopping, resist the urge to go with the first thing you see. There are many good news aggregator sites like Google News or news cooperatives like the Associated Press website can help the intrepid researcher with a lot of the legwork. Since you get to read news off different contributing sources using aggregator sites like these, it’ll be easier for you to see which details are real facts and which ones are just exaggerated opinions.
Where’d You Get That From?
Citations should be done properly not only to avoid issues of plagiarism but also to allow the responsible reader to check the credentials of the sources used or to read more on the background details if they so choose. As such, an ethical writer shouldn’t cherry-pick or quote-mine selected passage off his or her source and use it out of context. Sources should be quoted or paraphrased in the spirit in which it was originally intended by the original writer; unless specifically mentioned otherwise by the referring author. You have the right to dispute or challenge the source material’s claims later on, but do give the original author the courtesy of not mutating his thoughts beyond recognition and still attribute it to him just to give yourself a false sense of being backed by “authoritative sources”.
Connect the Dots
Another hallmark of a good article of this type is bringing out trends from different sources. For example, it would help readers see a holistic view of the issue if you would research not only on current events relating to the topic but also provide a bit of history or background story as well. That way, readers who aren’t familiar with the topic can appreciate the whole picture. By narrating to your audience pertinent bits of events as it unfolds in time, you’re connecting the dots while helping paint a macro view of the situation. A good historian knows that events are never isolated occurrences. Something led to them or exacerbated the situation. And by drawing a fairly comprehensive time-line of events, you’re showing readers the *whole* truth, not some distorted half-truth that merely suited to illustrate your point. It’s easy to paint someone as the “villain” of the story when you cut to the part where this group of people all of a sudden decides to mount an unprovoked attacked against someone else. There is no such thing as an unprovoked attack. For things to escalate to the point of violence, there is always a series of events that pushed one side past the tipping point. So it’s your job as the freethinking researcher to not only see it through the end, but also to start your narration at the point where things started to matter.
Fitting Square Pegs into Round Holes
The biggest pitfall in consolidating different sources is making connections that aren’t there. There are a bunch of logical fallacies you can fall for so make it clear as to the nature of the relationship between different pieces of information you are putting together. By implying, or worse, explicitly citing connections that aren’t there, you run the risk of intellectual dishonesty. If there is no direct causality between A and B, don’t imply that there is. There is nothing more irksome than pretending coincidence is scientific fact. Your arguments will only appear shaky and people with half a brain can spot bullshit a mile away (unless they share similar delusions)
Sure you want compelling data to support your claims or quotations from famous personalities to back up your sentiments but if you mangle it too much… to the point where the statistics already tell a totally different story, then your piece ceases to be a journalistic endeavor and is reduced to mere propaganda.
So that’s all for now, more to follow. And if you care to share with other readers your favorite reliable news sources, please do post links to them below in the comments section.