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How to write a good essay, Part 2

by T.J. Nelson

How to write a good essay, Part 2

M y latest theory about the Internet is that it's a vast conspiracy dedicated to taking up all our free time so we don't revolt. We bloggers have to spend so much time correcting the misinformation created by other bloggers that we have no energy left for the Revolution. You know who's behind it.

These days, there are so many interesting and informative blogs out there that you need to create something unique in order to stand out. One way to do that is to provide something that others don't, like accurate facts. Another is to create a conspiracy theory. But even that gets old after a while. So your schtick might be to create anti-conspiracy theories. Example:

I have proof there is no conspiracy between the U.S. government and aliens. If there were a conspiracy, it would be a historical fact, and we would not be seeing it on the History Channel. After all, what would aliens from outer space be doing flying around in a weather balloon?

But before we can create masterpieces like this, we must first understand the basics, like how to write a good sentence.

So, in the interest of establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, and ... other stuff, in Part 2 of this series of How to Write Good we'll learn how to write some attention-grabbing sentences by studying examples that are, perhaps, not as good as they should be.

England's Daily Mail is a rich source of excellent examples. Just as conspiracy theories serve an important social function, so do tabloids: their function in the Universe is to remind us that we must live our lives in such a way that the means of our death don't make the front page of the Daily Mail.

The writers at the Mail have already passed that point, literarily speaking, but they have left us a rich legacy for our amusement study, falling into six categories. (So, okay, this article is really just a way to make fun of the Daily Mail. But you probably guessed that by now.)

1. Dangling Participles

A participial phrase is a clause with a verb that modifies or explains your sentence in an amusing way. To be effective, it must ‘dangle’, which means it must not make any logical sense. Example:

“Thinking the post would amuse family and friends, the photo album has been viewed more than two million times on Imgur and attracted nearly 3,000 comments on Reddit.” [1]

2. Misleading Juxtaposition

Closely related to this is the misleading juxtaposition. To produce the desired effect, your clause must modify the wrong thing, making it unintentionally amusing and forcing the reader to go back and re-parse it:

“Air crash investigators think the Embraer 190 jet was flown into the ground by the captain after his copilot went to the toilet, killing everyone.” [2]

“‘Blood moon’ refers to its orange or red appearance -- the result of sunlight scattering off Earth's atmosphere, seen here in Santa Barbara.” [3]

“Alaskan Forester Mauled to Death by Brown Bear on his Way to Collect Groceries for his Colleagues.”[Citation needed]

This last example is a three-fer: a tragic death, a misleading juxtaposition, and a bad headline, which I will discuss further.

3. Bad Headlines
Of course, you will also need a title. Or, as the pros call it, a headline.

“One Dead At Funeral”

“Man Jailed For Eating Potato Chips”

“Mother Faces Jail Time for Baptizing Her Children”

From these examples, you can see that your title must be something that will induce outrage in the reader. Later, on page 26A, you can tell the readers, if they are still reading, that the person is really in the clink because they violated some court order or stole merchandise.

You can make this headline even more effective by including a picture of the perp as a baby or cute teenager. If done well, you can use this technique to cause a riot, thereby creating more news and selling more papers.

4. Strategic Ambiguity
Another way to get them to read your article is to use a word that means two different things, as in this headline:

"Crack Found in Dam on Columbia River." [4]

In this case, it doesn't matter: people downstream still have to move out of the way, lest they drown in a fifty-foot-high wall of illegal drugs.

5. Content
As my old Grandma Blogger taught me, if you can't say anything snarky, don't say anything at all. But when they put the snark in their own mouths, it's fair game. Which brings us, of course, to Vice President Joe Biden. So Rule 5 is: Always include a quote from somebody intelligent. Or, if you can't find one, quote Joe Biden.

“Imagine a world in which hunger is vanquished by crops that don't depend on the soil, water or fertilizer, or pesticides to thrive; they're just around the corner.” [5]

Yes, with those new crops we don't need water anymore. They'll grow just fine with Brawndo™, the Thirst Mutilator, 'cause it's got electrolytes.

Or, you can go for the ewwwww factor:

“Folks, I can tell you I've known eight presidents, three of them intimately.” [6]

This one also goes for the fear factor, stoning two birds with one hit: this guy could someday be our president.

6. Political Correctness

Today we have to be very careful to cater to crazy people people's differences. However, despite almost twenty minutes of exhausting effort, I was unable to find a single example of a sentence that's politically correct and yet still funny. I suspect there aren't any. They're not only incompatible—they're opposites.






[6] Joe Biden, Aug. 22, 2012

See also:

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apr 26, 2015; updated may 01, 2015 On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise