When Thomas Paine famously penned his pamphlets Common Sense, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, and The Crisis, he took little heed of today’s advice from wanna-be writing professionals. In fact, writers and readers of today would hardly refer to any of his writings as “Pamphlets”, being that we envision something like a nice 11 by 8.5 inch tri-fold with pictures and just a few actual words when we hear the word. No, I’m afraid many would call Mr. Paine’s writings something more akin to a novel or a lengthy book.
Thomas Paine has famous quotes that we Patriotic Americans love to post on our social media sites, such as the following from his Common Sense. (Please note this is all one sentence…or as some would call it, a compound sentence, still others, a run-on)
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
It is no secret to those in the field of education that the average reading level, of the average newspaper sold today, is somewhere at or below 8th grade level. In a few cases, it is even argued that the writing is at a 4th grade level. So, I guess that speaks volumes about the literacy rate of Americans today and our education system. Let me give you a sample of a kindergarten through 2nd grade sentence and paragraph.
Next, Mickey visited Minnie. “We are having a picnic,” he told her. Minnie was excited. She could not wait to share her favorite foods!
(This is a paragraph with four sentences.) Source: Disney, Mickey & Friends: A Perfect Picnic (2013).
Now, recently I read a nice “How To” article on increasing traffic to your blog site. One of the recommendations was that we write only 500-600 words (so as to not bore our readers, I suppose). Poor Thomas would certainly have had very few followers if this were the standard when our nation was founded. Though I do not have an exact word count, his Common Sense comes to around 65 pages in the paperback version I own. Rights of Man had approximately 232 pages and was written in two parts and five chapters. The Crisis comes in at around 56 pages, and is credited with helping to turn the tide of the downward spiraling morale of the Continental Army. (It’s a legendary pep talk, in simpler terms.)
George Washington thought the work was so important that he read it to his soldiers and commanded that his officers read it to each unit. Again, you may recall some of the more famous lines of this revolutionary piece. (It is also worth noting that men who were illiterate would stand for hours while someone else read these pamphlets aloud.)
These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
Now, lest you think I am being too hard on the helpful blogging tipster…let me assure you that I understand his purpose. He was simply suggesting methods that would increase the number (quantity) of viewers or readers to your blog. He based this from his own experience having implemented four steps and one of them being to write shorter blogs, with only three to four sentence paragraphs, and as few compound sentences as possible. He noted that this step, along with others, had brought in 80% more readers. That is great, if you are concerned with quantity over quality.
Frankly, I do not want to bother with people who are either too lazy or intellectually inept to read a compound sentence or a paragraph with five or more sentences. Nor do I have time to waste on people who do not have five minutes to read something that is a mere three pages in length. We have enough idiots in Congress who refuse to read the Bills they vote on…I refuse to accept this behavior as OK. The cold hard truth is that you do not even have a paragraph if it does not contain a minimum of four sentences. You need one for the topic, two for the main body, and one for the conclusion. If you can write your information that relates to your topic sentence in one sentence…your topic is likely too simple.
When we complain about the dumbing down of America, it amazes me that no one seems to see how this occurs. When we agree to write shorter, simpler pieces, we are agreeing that people have shorter attention spans and simpler brains. I refuse to accept that self-discipline and genuine concern for our nation, our children, and our future is dead. The evidence that such attributes still exist are found in the small but loyal following of readers who still think a good story is not better when read in cliff note form. If we had more men and women who took the time to read Thomas Paine with all his compound sentences and enormous paragraphs…our nation would not be in such pitiful shape.
Perhaps it is the teacher in me who refuses to give in to the quick thrill of more traffic to my blog. Again, I care less about the quantity of readers than I do about the quality. I am not advocating that we attempt to be Charles Dickens, but I refuse to write stories that would pass for first grade material or could have been in a Dick and Jane book! History can attest that simple people did not found our nation, nor will it be saved by simple people today. So, write with clarity and purpose and ignore the temptation to fit your points into neat little sound bites. We should seek to sound more like Thomas Paine and less like Dr. Seuss!