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The Specific 007: The Double Diamond Model For Expert Writing
When Janahan gave me feedback on Issue 004 - Guess and Test, he mentioned how I was trying to draw too many lessons from my body transformation story. Specifically, he said, (my bad if I recall wrongly) I was doing “too much divergent thinking”.
This reminded me of two things which I came across before. They are the Double Diamond model for problem-solving and Larry McEnerney’s concept of Expert Writing.
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And while revisiting these two things, I realized I can combine them to form a model to guide your writing, especially if your purpose is to change people’s minds with your writing.
The development of this model is still early, but I’m excited to share with you and get your thoughts. In this newsletter, I will walk you through the major ideas I use to assemble this beta model. Hopefully, you get fresh perspectives on how you can apply some of the ideas in your own writing.
First, let’s revisit the Double Diamond model by the British Design Council.
Thing 1: Double Diamond
When I try to label the four halves of this Double Diamond based on divergent or convergent, I get this nice pattern.
The second thing that Janahan’s divergent comment reminded me of is this masterful class taught by Professor Larry McEnerney.
Thing 2: Expert Writing Argument by Larry McEnerney
Professor Larry McEnerney is the Director of the University of Chicago Writing Program. Specifically, I want to highlight an argument he laid out in three parts, which was part of a longer lecture he gave.
No worries, you don’t have to watch the full thing. I will link to the timestamp for each part, and summarize in text.
In the first part labeled “Text-Based Writing”, Professor McEnerney defined most writing advice like “write short sentences”, “don’t use passive voice” etc as text-based writing advice. This is between 07:25 to 09:10. This definition is a setup for the rest of the argument.
In the next part titled “Expert Writing”, between 09:07 and 14:35 he contrasted text-based writing advice against what he taught, which was teaching experts how to write. And experts write for one very important purpose: to convince readers to change their minds about the world.
He called this Expert Writing. And in these 5 mins, he made clear that:
Think then write is only partially correct because most people think and write at the same time. And that’s how they think!
Most people, when they were in school, would simply think and write. At the end, they simply submitted the text from that thinking and writing as is.
Therefore, there’s a difference between Write to Think and Write to be Read.
I often referred to Chris Wong’s How to Give Good Feedback model in my pieces that touch on writing, and I noticed it has parallels to Larry McEnerney’s categories. I’m thinking like this:
Let’s get back to the third and last part of McEnerney’s argument.
And, finally, the pièce de résistance by McEnerney.
The last part labeled as “Bad Habits” is between 14:36 and 19:40 where McEnerney energetically declared that students in his class would have spent their past 20 years learning bad writing habits by the time they took his class. Bad because
Teachers are paid to read what students submit. And as mentioned earlier, students mostly think and write at the same time, and then submit as is.
Therefore, submitting your writing to teachers is the same as attaching a 100 dollar bill to your piece of writing and asking readers to read. And of course, they read!
When these students move to the real world to become experts, and they want to sell their writing, the dynamic has changed. Now, they’re asking readers to pay first before reading.
And so, students never figure out there’s a difference between “Write to Think” and “Write to be Read”!
What I Did in the Original Draft
If I combine McEnerney’s ideas with the Double Diamond, I get the following:
Using this hybrid model to explain what I did in the draft that elicited Janahan’s “too much divergence” comment, it would look like this
In bullet points, I can structure the four halves as:
write to think
generate enough options, so that..
pick one main idea to focus on
now write to be read
generate enough ways to present the main idea selected in 1b, so that..
pick the best way and present it
Mapping it to Chris Wong’s How to Give Good Feedback
Currently, I heavily rely on the kindness of my fellow members in the Newsletter Launchpad community to review my drafts before I publish them.
But, I also wouldn’t want to wear out their patience.
Chris Wong wrote an excellent piece (the same one I pointed in the sidebar earlier) about giving good feedback on writing when not all kinds of feedback are equal.
$10,000: Core Idea
$1,000: Emotional Impact
$100: What's Missing?
$10: Line Edits
Using Chris’ model, I would focus my feedback on the two most valuable parts: Core Idea and Emotional Impact.
But, I believe Chris’ ideas go both ways. For both the feedback giver and the writer.
If I continue to write drafts that have boring Core Ideas, without any strong Emotional Impact, my reviewers would, over time, be less willing to review my future drafts.
If I were to improve the Double Diamond for Expert Writing with Chris’ points, I will get
And that, dear readers, is when I realize, hey, maybe this could be a model for generating Expert Writing to Change People’s Minds.
In the spirit of Guess and Test, I should probably start by testing this model against the best non-fiction writing that has changed how I look at the world.
I’ll let you know how it goes in a future newsletter issue. For now, if you spot any obvious flaws in this model, leave a comment here and tell me.
Elsewhere on the Internet
Usually, in Elsewhere on the Internet, I will cover other links or tweets I find interesting that may or may not be connected to the main essay.
But, this essay already covers the Larry McEnerney’s energetic class, and I cannot find anything better to top that.
So, go watch that. Especially, focus on Text-Based Writing, Expert Writing, and Bad Habits.
One other useful resource is Paul Graham, an excellent writer himself, had his one of his writing recorded. It’s like watching a master at work overlooking their shoulders. The recording is here. No advice here. Purely watch him work.
But, if you still like to read advice, here’s what he wrote to introduce his recording.
By the way, I’m now 7 issues into my 10 weekly newsletter issue experiment, so I can see the end of the tunnel. I will reward myself for completing the experiment by indulging my “shiny new object” syndrome and setting up a personal website using Ghost.
I intend to document that process but I haven’t decided how I should do that. Either as Loom videos or as text tutorials. It will be free. So if that’s something you’re interested in, you have a vote to decide. Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org and the majority gets the free tutorials in whatever format they prefer.
Convergent is the adjective of the gerund verb, “converging”. As in, converge from many options into selecting one. Divergent is the opposite. It’s about generating many options. In the context of problem solving, convergent thinking usually means selecting one solution out of many possible solutions and divergent thinking means generating many possible solutions from a single problem.