Friday, April 3, 2009

Writing things out

I read an interesting article on Copyblogger by guest poster Dave Navarro that got me thinking. The topic had nothing to do with genealogy. -- "How To Get Great Copywriters to Mentor You For Free". In a nutshell, he promoted the idea of writing out by hand, preferably, writing styles etc. that you like.

When you read someone else’s copy, you might say to yourself “I need to use that style,” or “I’d never write like that,” but you’re only doing a superficial analysis (and you’re prone to distraction, to boot). But when you write by hand, you slow down. You engage the part of your brain that creates, not just the part that takes in the sights, and it changes your perspective.

He goes on to describe how writing it out will "challenge your muscle memory".

Now how does that apply to genealogy?

I thought of a couple of ways.

Transcribing a document - When you take the time to write it out (or type out if you don't have readable handwriting) you are
  • concentrating on each word
  • learning the standard wording of typical documents of that type

Learning how to write family histories or case studies. The point is not to copy someone's work in your articles/books etc. but to improve your writing as outlined above

As you hand write (print) names on a family tree (in pencil of course as you will likely make changes), you are concentrating on the names, dates and places.

The 5th standard in the genealogical proof standard is "a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion." When we write things out, we are thinking things through.

We learn by different ways. We may favour one over the other but generally it is helpful to learn by multiple means. Writing by hand is tactile/physical/kinesthetic learning. As I prepare to teach a night school course on genealogy at the end of April, I want to keep in mind all the various ways people learn so that we have variety and to give the students time to write things out.

Do you think it helps to write things out?


  1. I totally agree! I've sometimes pondered whether I need to transcribe a document if I can attach a photocopy of it to the source detail in Legacy Family Tree. Therefore, I've made a decision to go back and transcribe sources which previously only had pictures attached to them. Transcription really helps me in analyzing the document's contents. It's very easy to scan over an important detail when reading the document, especially in the initial excitement of finding the document in the first place!

  2. Very much so Janet, I am a firm believer in writing things out, in writing letters the old fashion way, journaling,I am not a creative or good writer but it has helped me work thru many issues and I it does force you to slow down, which I think we need more of. I would rather write than type but each individual is different, it is what works for me. You touched on a subject that is very important to me, thank you.

  3. I don't write things by hand. For me handwriting is far too slow. But I type at almost as slow a speed, but one that allows me to form my sentences carefully, to remember capitalization and grammar, and how important they are to the readability of the final article. The other advantage of typing on a computer is that I can erase or copy and paste without making a mess. And, golly, can I make changes!
    I find it very difficult to remember that when writing about the 1860s, I really ought to write in past tense. I may feel I am there, but my audience probably doesn't.

  4. I find it easier to remember if I write things down. If I make a grocery list, I remember it, even if I forget to take it with me.
    Transcribing into another language helps me understand it better, eg. Parish records written in French. I often miss pertinent information if I don't transcribe them.

  5. Thanks Jennifer,Gini, Old Census Scribe and Earline for stopping by and leaving your comments.

    Even if we type our transcriptions, I believe it helps us with thinking things through. One advantage of typing them out is that they can be copied into reports or emails, etc.

    When we talk about the past, documents tell us (present tense) but people did something (past tense).


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