Why a writer is a word engineer

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Hooray for HTML tags. I designed this in Adobe Illustrator.

When I tell people that I consider myself a logical person, they sometimes ask why I’m not more involved in engineering or math. After all, people usually associate “logic” with mathematical proofs that show you how to get from “ABC is a right triangle” to “a2 + b2 = c2.” But math and science don’t have a monopoly on logic. The more I study programming, the more I appreciate writing as a logical activity. Here’s how some principles of logic and engineering apply to the writing process:

1. Writing uses a logical sequence. A typical story starts from the beginning and finishes at the end. User manuals show you step-by-step how to fix your computer or set up your new furniture. A proper sentence also follows the rules of grammar. Language is easiest to understand when you put words in a order certain.

2. Consequently, logic is built into our language in the form of transitions such as “if so, then,” “therefore,” and “afterwards.” A writer uses transitions to carefully lead the reader from one thought to another. Most programming languages use the “if” and “then” concepts that we use in everyday speech and thought.

3. The strongest pieces are simple and focused. If something is redundant or doesn’t serve a purpose in the piece, out it goes. I’ve heard many people say that an important coding principle is “don’t repeat yourself.” Don’t repeat yourself, unless you’re emphasizing an argument. Computers are also not impressed with embellished, convoluted, academic vocabulary. Simplicity is better.

4. Proofreading requires incredible patience and attention to detail. One tiny missing dot at the end of a sentence could ruin an otherwise grammatically flawless article Spell checker tools in word processors don’t catch every mistake. Luckily, proofreading is not as frustrating as debugging a program, because one missing period in an article won’t ruin the reader’s comprehension of the whole piece. Nonetheless, writers should still take the time to make sure every letter or punctuation mark is in place.

5. When I write, I feel like I’m building a complex machine with thousands of moving parts at my disposal. The ideal piece of writing has no loose or rusty gears. If readers have to stop and think “wait, I don’t understand what I just read,” then they’ve just found a glitch that requires fixing. Fortunately, I enjoy rearranging words to repair sentences.

6. Writing requires you to support your arguments with evidence, just as science does. When I took my first college literature class, I thought my professor was pulling crazy theories about the book characters out of thin air. It turns out I just needed more practice with close reading and creating coherent arguments from textual evidence.

7. There can be several ways to implement a program and get the same output, but the better programmer will search for a way to make the code cleaner and more understandable by humans. Likewise, writers want to get their point across in the most concise and consistent way.

8. I’ve heard people describe elegant code or algorithms as “beautiful.” I’m sure there are also readers like me who swoon at the sight of a gorgeously constructed sentence.

9. Writing and programming are creative activities at heart. The point of writing or programming is to express your ideas through language, whether it be English, Java, Arabic, or C++. Writers, engineers, and all other creators must go through the same processes of brainstorming, building, and refining their product. Everyone has their own unique style and their own set of tools. In some cases, especially in fiction writing, people make innovative discoveries by ignoring all the conventions.

The wide gap between STEM and humanities in college education is unfortunate, because all academic fields stem from the glorious, creative human mind. What matters most is that we learn to think logically. Logic is an intellectual superpower.

For a demonstration of a blogger meticulously tearing apart someone’s logic (and a fun discussion of Pixar’s best movie to date), check out this article.

I felt so uncomfortable leaving out that period in the third paragraph. The lengths I go to make a point . . . 

 

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