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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 08-01-2019 15:55

New endings

Endings are important. For a reader to be satisfied, a good ending needs to connect to the beginning and tie up your piece of writing.

Another 12 months have drawn to a close and it's that time of year when many of us take a moment to reflect upon how the last year went for us and what the New Year will bring with it.

Recently, I returned from a short trip to the United Kingdom. It had been a while since I'd been back to Britain near Christmas and it struck me how differently we approach the end of the year in Argentina and in the UK. 

By the first week of December, everything was already Christmas-oriented in the UK. Carol services and Christmas parties were in full swing, bringing together friends, family and communities. The lights were up in London, shops were laden with festive food products and the streets were heaving with shoppers buying presents. In contrast to our celebrations in Argentina, however, I find that in the UK the emphasis, when celebrating Christmas, is mostly on present-buying and giving.

My eldest nephew, Oliver, is in his last year at university studying psychology. He introduced me to Gary Chapman’s theory of the five love languages. Chapman, an American pastor and author, says that we all express love in different ways: one, present giving; two, time; three, physical touch; four, words of affirmation; and five, acts of service.

Although this may seem a little clichéd, it did make me think that in the UK the emphasis is on present giving, while in Argentina it is more focused on time and the actual act of getting together.

In Argentina, Christmas celebrations tends to be lower key. Giving presents is much less important, and the main focus is on reunions. Both institutionally and informally, everyone tries to meet up with colleagues, friends and even former schoolmates before the end of the year. Combined with the fact that everyone is trying to finish up work before the summer break, this means that December in Argentina is pretty busy.

When I describe this to my friends and family in the UK, they cannot understand it. And when I tell them that there is a tradition at New Year to throw all the papers from the previous year out the window they are nonplussed.

Most societies have some sort of New Year tradition, whether it’s making New Year resolutions which few of us keep, eating 12 grapes as the clock counts down to midnight, dressing in white and throwing flowers in the sea while jumping over seven waves or setting off fireworks and singing Auld Lang Syne, we all need to commemorate an ending to help us start anew.

In this series of articles on clear communication I have focused on the challenges of retaining the modern reader’s attention, capturing the reader’s attention by getting off to strong start, and using solid structures to lead the reader through your narrative. But how should we end?

Many writing experts today say that readers rarely read to the end of a piece at all, so therefore your ending is barely necessary. Hence, the prevalence of the reverse pyramid structure we talked about in solid structures which emphasizes the importance of communicating your message from the start as there is no guarantee that your reader will get to the end of your article at all. Some newspapers have anticipated this online, and if you read to the end congratulate you. Others ask for a financial contribution.

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Little Gidding, Section V

As Eliot says, endings are important. For a reader to be satisfied, a good ending needs to connect to the beginning and tie up your piece of writing. This is the essence of good storytelling, engaging your reader early, involving them in the narrative and offering up a convincing resolution.

There’s a good reason for the expression “it’s a wrap!” – to show our readers that we care about them, wrapping up our writing is essential.

Wishing you all the best for 2019!

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Joanna Richardson

Joanna Richardson

Joanna Richardson is a clear communications consultant. A British native, Joanna is an Argentine citizen who has made her home in Buenos Aires. She is president of Plain Language International Association (PLAIN, plainlanguagenetwork.org).

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