Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Specific

NOTE: Another little something for my BYU-Idaho students.

Be specific.

Let me be more specific than that: Go microscopic. Show us why you believe as you do, and you’ll be a better writer because you’ll connect on a deeper level with your readers.

Let me provide an example:

I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through a warm feeling in our hearts after a conference talk. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through the intervention of others at a time we needed help or comfort. The Holy Ghost may speak to us directly, letting us know when we’re in a situation we need to get out of fast.

That’s pretty specific, right? I’ve offered three examples of how the Holy Ghost might speak to us. So it’s clear I believe listening to the Holy Ghost is important, right?

Try this on for size:


That’s what the voice said. Distinctly. But also, distinctly in my head.

There was no one around at this hour to tell me to stop. I was alone. I left friends at the LDS Institute of Religion on the campus of the University of Idaho to go home to the dormitories to sleep. There were no friends to tell me to stop. The only other humans nearby were in that car, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing.

But the voice said stop. So I stopped.

A whoosh. A whoosh and the brush of something on the front of my jacket. A streak of silver. I stood frozen in the crosswalk. Blue and red lights flashed, followed by the chirp of a police siren. They were off after the silver car. That silver car that was only a smear of headlights, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing. That silver car that ran the stop sign and clipped the front of my jacket with its side-view mirror.

One step further and that speeding car would have hit me. One step further, but that voice said stop.

I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost.

The last sentence helps the reader know where I’ll go with the rest of this essay – but it’s almost unnecessary. It’s only there to clarify what I have just shown: That the Holy Ghost told me to stop before I became a pedestrian accident statistic.

Using a specific example or story to show why your thesis deserves support is the strongest way to connect to your readers. They may recall instances when they heard the Holy Ghost speaking to them. By evoking those memories, you strengthen your connection with your readers. The stronger that connection, the more they want to finish reading what you’re offering them.

That’s the dot I hope we connect this week. Get specific. Really specific. Find a story that shows, rather than tells, what you’re hoping to prove, and you’ll connect with your readers.

It sounds crass, but look at it this way: Here in the US, it’s election season. Our airwaves are full of political ads. In these ads, the politicians never mince words. It’s always a very specific message: Vote for me because of X, or Don’t vote for my opponent because of Y. The X and the Y are always very specific. Like this:

If that’s too crass, listen to this talk LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson gives on the subject of Scouting. Listen, in particular, for the story he tells of the belt buckle. He uses this specific story to great effect to support his message that Scouting=Good.

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