A different internal logic

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As editor for a parenting magazine, I get to go through submissions that are written by non-native writers of English, and I find it fascinating that the styles of the original language come through, even “in translation.”

Having been trained to write in the US, I follow the American system of logic: you start off by stating what you are going to say; provide the supporting arguments; then conclude by repeating what you said. So even within a paragraph, the main theme is always at the top, followed by the supporting evidence.

It’s quite different from, say, the Japanese, who tend to write in a flow-of-thought style, where the author ponders one thing after another without necessarily coming to any clear conclusion. I used to write this way I think…generally observing and noting something is interesting but without making any conclusive statement. It doesn’t work too well in English writing, where one must ask, “so what?”

I just read through a contribution by a Swedish mom, and the logic flowed in the opposite order to the US style. This writer placed all the evidence first, then the final sentence in each paragraph came to a concluding statement. To my American mind, it all seemed backwards and it was disconcerting not knowing whether I’d end up in the same point as the writer by the time I got to the end of the paragraph!

So what did I do? I confess I took my editor’s pen and flipped the sentences around. It is, after all, an English magazine.

That reminds me: while this isn’t strictly about internal logic of documents, 20 years ago I was reading through grant proposals from Chinese graduate student teams. Consistently, the Chinese proposals would contain as perhaps the key argument in support of their proposal, the fact that this work was endorsed by Professor XXX. I presume that the professor in each case was an important figure who gave legitimacy to the proposal. Unfortunately, that information didn’t help their grant proposals much outside of China.

So this blog post is more in the Japanese rambling style perhaps, but if I need to conclude something, then it’s this: when you’re writing in English, try to follow the English style of written logic. It makes your writing that much more convincing.

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