Summary first

I am reading Bill Bryson’s unbelievably entertaining “Notes from a Big Country”. This book is a collection of essays about the US of A. The essay “Wide Open Spaces” starts thus:

Here are a couple of things to bear in mind as you go through life: Daniel Boone was an idiot, and it’s not worth trying to go to Maine for the day from Hanover, New Hampshire.

This is a great illustration of why top-down writing works. The two assertions – one about Daniel Boone’s intellect and the other one about going to Maine from Hanover raise an immediate question in the mind of the reader – why the hell is the author saying this? The “why” question forces the reader to continue reading with a great deal of curiosity and alacrity with the objective of finding an answer to these important questions.

As soon as I read this paragraph of the essay, I smiled to myself quietly and dived into the rest of the chapter eagerly, but not before making a mental note to myself to write this blog post.

Clear and effective writing is about maintaining this constant question-answer dialogue with your reader. Make a summary statement, raise a question, and then proceed to answer it. Within the answer raise another question, and then proceed to answer it and keep doing this until you have finished your argument. Murder mysteries go a great job of this.

The reason we find this style of writing difficult is that we solve problems bottom up, and carry that method into articulation of the solution as well. However it is not useful to take the reader through the problem solving process in a bottom up direction.

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