Tuesday, April 09, 2013

how to write a poor intro paragraph

A link from Instapundit, purporting to explain how "real change" happens, led me to this article, titled "A New You? How Real Life [sic] Change Happens." The first paragraph is positively awful. To wit:

If the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then most of us qualify as nuts. We want to change our lives for the better; we believe that we are capable of change; and yet we find ourselves perennially stuck in the same old rut. One study found that 90 percent of coronary bypass patients go back to their old, unhealthy eating habits within two years of their operation. Another found that a substantial majority of dieters regain all their weight within a year—or wind up even heavier than when they started.

The hook is decent enough: gain the reader's interest by defining "crazy" and by promising some examples of craziness. But in this case, you'll have noted that the examples on offer, both relating tangentially or directly to poor eating habits, do not show crazy behavior. Crazy people, to qualify as crazy, bang their heads against the wall expecting different results. In what way are coronary bypass patients and lapsed dieters doing this? Where is it said that these dieters and bypass patients are really expecting change? Quite the contrary, they're probably just aiming for a little breathing room—for the right to indulge themselves. Far from wanting lasting change, they want to get back to their old ways. After a dieter has lost a certain amount of weight, he starts eating again because he feels he can afford to: his dieting justifies his current indulgence. The coronary bypass patient, meanwhile, is relieved at his renewed vigor, and simply wants to go back to living the good life. We could argue that such people are either failing to see or deliberately ignoring the connection between bad eating habits and bodily health, but these folks can't be accused of trying the same thing over and over while seriously expecting different results. An alternative explanation—one to which I don't subscribe, by the way—is that these poor folks are the victims of their unmasterable compulsions. But if this is true, how, then, are they crazy in the required sense?

So I'd say the writer, Jeff Wise, has failed—right at the beginning of the article—to make his point. Most un-Wise.

A little advice: be sure that your examples match your thesis. Here are some real examples of crazy (or at least unproductive) behavior:

•You're playing chess against a decent computer, and you insist on opening with a rook's pawn—the weakest possible opening move in chess, which almost guarantees failure. You lose game after game. You keep opening with a rook's pawn, anyway, expecting that, one day, you'll win a match.

•You tell yourself you're going to get onto the show "Jeopardy." You've got an IQ of 90. You try to take the online quiz, and fail miserably. You try again. You keep trying. Fail, fail, fail. You don't—fucking—learn. But you've got to follow your dream, right? Dumbass.

•When driving, you like to speed. You keep getting pulled over by the police, who never fail to catch you. You keep speeding, anyway, believing you can go on like this forever. Your license is revoked. Oops.

Luckily, the rest of Wise's article is very interesting and more coherent than his first paragraph.


No comments: