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On why Good Writing is the New Boxing

Effective writing, as an art, remains elusive to many. It is central to a plot, argument or sales pitch. Writing is more ubiquitous than ever these days, with the written word dominating the Internet. So what is it that makes good writing, good? Those who are keen to learn the basics are willing to invest in acquiring the skills needed to grab the attention of readers. Analogies such as ‘content is king’ have been put forward to simplify the process, yet results still vary.

In themselves, boxing and effective writing do share a common denominator. Both endeavours can be elegant and thrilling if done properly. It all boils down to training, proficiency and rhythm. Style is a defining characteristic that can distinguish the uninitiated from the more seasoned writer (or fighter). After all, spectators are willing to pay for a spectacular match-up but not an uninspiring contest between two timid contestants.

With this in mind, the following pointers will look into how the writing of content or explanation of an idea can be tackled in order to ensure the effective engagement of an your  audience, much like a prize fighter tackles a worthy opponent.   

Weighing-In Ceremony
Any boxer worth their salt would treat this occasion as an opportunity to let their competitor know who will be calling the shots in the ring. It is equal parts statement-of-intent and display of showmanship, with the event seeking to live up to the promotional hype and pique interest. The more compelling fights tend to feature a sub-plot of sorts, be it a long-standing grievance, a rematch, or the contesting of a title.   

The introduction of a text can be perceived in the same manner. It serves as a preview of the premise or idea that will be addressed in the following paragraphs. This can be achieved through the use of the Bottom Line Up Front approach, with the aims of the piece being clearly stated. This method also allows a writer to focus on the arguments and exploration of the issues at hand, with recommendations or suggestions being made at the very end.   
In this instance, readers are being courted to part with their time in return for information, insight or narrative. Equally, it should be considered as a commitment in writing.    

Grand Entrance And Style
Boxers are usually given, or choose for themselves, a stage persona, complete with a soundtrack of sorts and name. Ranging from the menacing and at times verging on the ridiculous, the ritual in itself is meant to evoke a response from the opponent and the crowd in attendance. It is also intended to generate an atmosphere on which the fighters will feed throughout the bout.

Style plays a similarly important rolerole, as fighters need to sell and live up to a reputation that they have made created for themselves. It is a facet of a fighter’s identity that has been developed and perfected in the hope that it would result in success in the ring. Apart from the prospect of sporting achievement, style is a calling card that may be monetised by the more commercial savvy, particularly at a time when sport and money are closely linked.

A parallel with writing is again to be drawn in this regard. In addition to coining an attention-grabbing title, writers should consider the opening paragraphs as a means to show off their skills and command of a given language. It is also an opportunity to carry on the tone set and firmly establish the order alluded to in the introduction. In this case, the ‘atmosphere’ being created can be similarly relied on to allow for a train of thought to be developed.

In terms of style, budding authors may consider this a possibility to develop their very own  techniques. The more experienced may see this as the outlet to mould content to their own writing image. This stage will allow an audience to become familiar with a writer as ideas begin to take shape.    

The more trained audience members can often tell who will hit the canvas even before the bell sounds off. Composure can reveal a fighter’s fitness, weaknesses and possibly any injuries that might still be lingering. It is also a window into a boxer’s mental state, confidence and alertness, factors which are just as important as brawn when outsmarting a rival in the ring.
The impression given off will be surely read into by an opponent as an indication of how long it will take to head back to the comforts of a dressing room. A short boxing match might be an impressive feat, as Mike Tyson has shown, but it all depends on the occasion.  

A cursory glance at a text is in itself an indication of the effort being put into crafting engaging content. Needless to say, an op-ed is not to adopt the same structure as a tweet or a Facebook post. As social media is being a crucial part of daily communication, writers should be well aware of this. It should also be taken onboard even when it comes to formatting.  
Similarly, a short text might be informative but falls short of providing room for details to be communicated.

An evenly paced body of text gives the idea that a writer is taking their time to address the issues at hand and feels at ease discussing the various related aspects. It all revolves around the medium to which a message needs to be tailored. Once this is established, composure will be essential in order to keep a reader engaged.

Pace Yourself
It is one of the reasons why some of us are not meant to don boxing gloves. The sport is not solely about brute force but also about precision and timing. At times, it is akin to chess, with strategy and reading into the game setting amateurs apart from the professionals. Boxers who come out swinging might be hoping for a quick knockout but the more consummate fighter would easily parry or move out of harm’s way. This would also be a sure way to tire out an assailant, with their opponent taking the upper hand and dictating proceedings from thereon.     

The same goes for writing. Pacing oneself ensures that the reader is being taken through the motions of the article’s train of thought. Be it an instructional booklet or an opinion piece on the state of an industry, a writer is in a position to set the speed at which details are passed on to a reader. Each idea should be allowed space and treat- ed with an appropriate amount of consideration. One way of ad- dressing this is by alternating be- tween keeping sentences compact when going over the more obvious material, and opting for longer text and/or paragraphs when examining the more complex matters.

Equally, over-enthusiasm often leads writers to opting for a barrage of information. As a consequence, a piece may struggle to connect with an audience, with most of the details failing to capture the attention. As the expression goes, it will fly over their heads.

Treat Your Opponent (And The Audience) With Respect
Consider a bout where a pugilist shows very little respect for their rival. Some may point to legends such as Ali as being irreverent but this was done with a clear aim in mind. Equally, the crowds took to the ploy knowing that opponents might lower their guard for the sake of making a fight personal. In this instance, irreverence should be seen as giving oneself an advantage. Crowds tend to respond better to a battle of wills spurred by jibes rather than being treated with con- tempt.   

Underestimating the intelligence of your audience is bound to backfire spectacularly. The discerning reader is now provided with endless content online and is more than likely to show disdain by the tap of a screen or a click of a mouse. Some themes are expected to be defined and explained, but over-simplifying or dumbing down content will only lead to disinterest and a public show of disapproval.

The Final Flourish
Once exhaustion starts to set in, the more natural response would be to go for a killer punch as soon as it is humanly possible. An assumption is being made that the opponent is likely to be just as drained. It might pay off but it may also result in throwing it all away for a rush of blood.

The opposite can have an equally unflattering result. Prolonging a contest when the opening for a victory is just an uppercut away might prove costly. Titles have been won and lost and fortunes made on the back of spurned chances and bad timing.   

A concluding paragraph is where writers can truly leave their mark. It is just a matter of getting the tempo right even though it might be easier said than done. One way of dealing with this is to keep to short sentences. Another option is to read the ending paragraph aloud - if it falls flat, then it needs tweaking or rewriting.

The Economist offers inspiration in this regard. Its main columnists tend to lead a conclusion with an assertion followed by a question or statement as a punch line. Its effectiveness lies in making the reader think about what they have read earlier or even go back to the text.

After all, it’s all about keeping calm and going for the knockout.

Last modified onMonday, 08 December 2014 18:24
Mark Debono

Mark Debono, who practices Martial Arts, has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Malta and is Director of the internet marketing firm Systemato. Mark is a seasoned online marketing consultant, consultant copywriter and freelance writer with a penchant for technology, the internet, blogging, copywriting and faultless grammar

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