How to Write As an Informant

This is not normal: a civil servant wrote a good memo. Harvard College Writing Center director Jane Rosenzweig praises a nine-page whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration in a New York Times article , listing four methods that make the complaint clear and effective.

It is clearly marked

Three of these techniques — urgent introduction, strong, related subheadings, and topical sentences — reflect a clear and linear structure of the material. You can pull out subheadings and topic sentences to create an overview of the document’s findings.

This makes the document easy to read and difficult to read. It also helps spread the word because news outlets can accurately summarize the complaint for a wider audience — an audience that reads a two-page article rather than a nine-page government memo.

It is active

Another technique – active sentences with a subject and a verb – attributes cause and effect to specific people. The informant believes that certain people have committed certain actions in violation of certain rules. It uses the passive voice only when he knows that someone had to do something, but can not figure out who. He points this out by clarifying the boundaries of his complaint rather than vaguely accusing him:

The officials also said they were also “made clear” that the president did not want to meet with Zelenskiy until he saw Zelenskiy “decide to act” in his post. I do not know how or by whom this guide was passed on.

This is an obvious obstacle to Word Salad’s love for vague phrases like “more and more people are talking.”

You can write like that too

If you want to write with a clear structure, you have two options: sketch out the text carefully and then write within that outline, or write first and then convert the text into a clear outline.

Depending on your style and mood, one of them will seem less intimidating than the other. Sometimes it’s a summary: you don’t have to do “real” writing yet, you just list the ideas you want to write later! If you’re really good at it, you can continue sketching in smaller steps until you accidentally write most of the text. The sketching method is especially effective for persuasive and explanatory writing such as memos, essays, and emails. But it can work in creative writing too, as long as it doesn’t suppress fun ideas or make your work boring and predictable.

Sometimes it’s less intimidating to write freely, writing down your thoughts in the order in which they come to you. You don’t have to write “for real” yet, you just first say all the interesting things, and then put them in order and fill in the blanks! It’s harder to write an entire piece “by accident”, but it leaves more room for surprises and for discovering what you really want to say when you’re not sure yet. If you have the urge to say something, but you don’t know what, just do it all without editing it yourself. Then put the draft aside, come back in an hour or more and edit. Repeat this cycle several times.

You will often write in between: writing complete sentences, trying to make sense of each, and trying to organize as you write. There is nothing wrong. But if you start to hate the writing process, try just free writing or just sketches. Yes, you put off the hardest, but in the process, you make it less difficult.

The informant can write | NYT


Leave a Reply