Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Writing Online

I read a number of blogs and online forums. In my opinion, arguments quickly devolve into logically poor back-and-forth spats, quite often because of the style of “discussion” which is encouraged by the medium.

The “style of discussion” I am referring to is the decomposition of an opposing argument into a number of separate paragraphs or segments, then critiquing and rebutting each segment on its own. It can easily become a hybrid of cherry picking, quoting out of context, and erecting a straw-man.

Perhaps if arguments were expressed strictly in the (logical) form of premise-conclusion such a style would be suitable. However, most articles are not written as logical arguments. Articles are more holistic, with distinct flows of argument. An approach that dissects writing into separate sections and attacks individual sections in isolation may not be entirely sound. The approach also leads to increasing myopia, as arguments and rebuttals tend to focus on increasingly minor points of disagreement.

The second problem is that it tends to give an impression of disagreement rather than agreement. It encourages one to zoom in on areas of disagreement, and comment on how those particular segments are flawed or incorrect. Inadvertently, one fails to emphasize or draw attention to how one agrees or at least finds sound the remainder of the work. Perhaps people do not see the need to express agreement, and only see the need to express disagreement or discontent, but such a tendency will, accumulated over many individuals, lead to an overwhelming amount of negative feedback quite contrary to the actual perception of the article.

Increasingly, I am favoring posts that are more concise in nature, with only one or two major points. I think that doing so is better as the logical and structural consistency will be higher; a longer article necessarily exposes unintentional weaknesses or areas for misinterpretation. Writing as a medium of argument is unforgiving; whereas speech allows for mistakes to be tolerated by virtue of memory and the fact that rebuttals and clarifications can be made near instantly, in writing your mistakes are open for careful and prolonged examination, and the latency of correction diminishes the impact of your defense.


Benedict said...

"It can easily become a hybrid of cherry picking, quoting out of context, and erecting a straw-man."

Toss this to a class of moderately articulate students and a sensual oral discussion shall take place.

The Negative Man said...

Oh, trying to be cheeky huh.