Give them a reason!

by sue on December 15, 2011

Inductive reasoning is a yawner

In my line of work, eavesdropping is research. That may sound like a lame excuse for (rudely?) listening in on other people’s conversations; however, sometimes, they’re simply too loud to ignore. A research opportunity showed up, this week, as I overheard a chat between some people we’ll call Manny and Franny. Franny was telling a long, meandering story and Manny was doing his best to follow.

Franny’s story went something like this:

  • Here’s a bit of background.
  • Here’s another bit.
  • Oh, and there’s this.
  • And while that was happening, this was going on.
  • And here’s some more background.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • And I think maybe we should do this about it.

By the first Etc., I wanted cry, “Spit it out Franny. What’s your point?” Clearly, Manny is a better person than I am.

Slow and steady leaking of clues might work well in a mystery novel. But if you’re trying to be persuasive, it’s rarely effective. If we don’t know the point you’re making, as we try to follow the thread, most of what you say or write will sound like, “Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla.”

Franny uses what’s called “inductive reasoning.” She piles one idea on top of another in hope that the listener or reader will, eventually, get the point. It’s long and slow and painful for the audience. I’ve heard her complain that “people don’t ever listen to me.” I understand why.

She’d have greater success if she would use “deductive reasoning.” It goes something like this:

  • Here’s what I think we should do.
  • Here’s one reason.
  • Here’s some more evidence.
  • And here’s some more.
  • And, finally, there’s this.

Deductive reasoning makes the big point first and, then, presents evidence showing it’s a good idea. It gives the reader or listener’s brain a framework for paying attention. Brains appreciate that. If you want to get and hold people’s attention, make your point early in the story. Your audience will reward you.

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