Pacing Your Ideas For Impact and Understanding

A. What Is Pacing?Think about runners in a relay race. A member of the relay team starts running, makes a loop around the track, and passes off the baton to the next runner. A new runner grabs the baton, runs for a while, and then does something significant, which, in this case, is passing off the baton to the next team member. This is a surprisingly good analogy for writing.The term “pacing” refers to how ideas and main points are presented in a document, whether fiction or nonfiction. Appropriate pacing helps the reader to recognize and understand your ideas, and it adds impact to your main points. Here’s how pacing in writing fits the analogy above:
Grabbing the baton: introducing a new idea

Running around the track: discussing the idea

Passing the baton: presenting your main point
In plain writing terminology, then, here’s how you pace your ideas.
Present the context, the idea, to the reader.

Discuss the idea, providing explanation or supporting details.

Hit your reader with your main point.
You may have noticed that this looks much like the structure for an effective paragraph, and these two topics are related: context, content, main point. What pacing allows you to do, however, is discuss subtopics in a longer paragraph, discuss major topics in a chapter or document section, and consider how multiple paragraphs fit together to present a series of ideas.B. An Example of PacingLet’s look at an example to see what pacing looks like in practice. This sample is taken from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” written in 1849. It was written as one long paragraph.”Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to have this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, ‘Your money or your life,’ why should I be in haste to give it my money? It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.”Many of today’s readers would recommend breaking this long paragraph into three paragraphs because it seems to describe three topics: 1) The force of the State conflicts with the nature of a man, 2) The individual man is not responsible for the wellbeing of the government, and 3) A man who cannot live according to his own nature will die. These three subtopics are about one main idea, which is the struggle between the state and the individual. This text works fine as one long paragraph because it has one central idea. (Remember our advice: One idea = One paragraph.)When we examine the three subtopics, we can begin to understand how Thoreau used pacing to present his subtopics. The paragraph is broken into its three parts below. You will notice that each one begins by establishing the context, continues by providing some discussion, and ends by making a main point.Subtopic one: The force of the State conflicts with the nature of a man.Establish the context: the nature of the confrontation. Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses.Discuss the topic. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to have this way or that by masses of men.Conclude with the impact statement. What sort of life were that to live?”Subtopic two: The individual man is not responsible for the well-being of the government.Establish the context: an example of force. When I meet a government which says to me, ‘Your money or your life,’ why should I be in haste to give it my money?Discuss the topic. It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it.Conclude with the impact statement. I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer.Subtopic three: A man who cannot live according to his own nature will die.Establish the context: an analogy. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side,Discuss the topic. the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies;Conclude with the impact statement. and so a man.By pacing his ideas with this structure, Thoreau is able to discuss a fairly complex idea in a manner that the reader can understand. Also, by pacing his main points, as opposed to providing them all at once, he adds impact to those points. Had he only written his main points, the reader would be left wondering what he means, the main points would seem disconnected, and the ideas would not make an impact on the reader.C. ConclusionYou might not agree with Thoreau’s political opinions, but his words have had a strong impact on various struggles for independence, first in the United States, and then later in other areas where people have felt oppressed by their governments, such as in struggle against South African apartheid during the 1960s. One reason why people have paid attention, and have been moved to act, by his words is because he paced his ideas for greatest understanding and impact.Thus, if you have significant points to make, and if you want your reader to understand and remember them, and if you want your reader to act upon them or in some way be affected by them, we recommend that you pay attention to the pacing.(Note: We used this structure to write this article. First we established the context in section A, then we provided discussion in section B, and, finally, we concluded with our main point in section C.)

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