Narrowing the Focus

One of the first things I learned when I started researching a topic for my law review article is how to limit scope; more information is not necessarily better.  One of the worst things you can do to your article is to include too many ideas.  Inundate your readers with enough different propositions, and you will very soon lose their interest.  Your point will be lost amongst a myriad tangents; better to pick a single, narrow idea to focus on in depth.  Of course, this is easier said than done.

Particularly in the environmental field, where there is so much scientific and political information, a narrow topic is difficult to identify without some preliminary research.  Even then, a topic you may think is narrow can yield a wealth of sources to parse.  The article writer’s job is to sift through all of the sources pertinent to the topic and extract the key ideas necessary to make and support the discussion in the article.  We sometimes get caught up in our research, wanting to include every piece of interesting trivia about the topic.  After all, the reason we are writing on the subject is our interest in the field.  However, like any other writer, the article author needs to edit their own writing to restrain their enthusiasm from obscuring the premise.

One way of doing this is to outline the ideas you intend to present before inserting sources.  With an outline of the structure of your article, it is much easier to avoid straying onto trivial tangents that detract focus from your main discussion.  Once your outline has been laid out, you can return to each point and insert supporting facts and sources to develop your point.  If you find yourself getting highly focused on a single source, that may be a signal that you are going onto a tangent and should reign yourself in.  We see this in the articles we edit as well as those we write; whenever the author begins a multi-page string of citations to the same source, the text becomes less focused on supporting the premise of the article.  While background information on the topic may be interesting, and author must seriously consider how much is necessary to establish credibility for their argument.  Too much elaboration can be counter-productive.  The best writers are the ones that strike the perfect balance between foundational facts and information overload, and we should strive to follow their example.

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