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TODAY’S STORY
8 Sep
,
2022

Scope creep and managing the surface area of your argument

A trait that accompanies curiosity is a kind of generality — maybe not in terms of domain interest — but definitely in terms of observation. What they call scholarship or erudition.

You might not be necessarily interested in multiple domains, but if you're sufficiently interested in even one, you will probably try to learn from other domains and borrow insights, metaphors, and ways of seeing/operating from them.

You tend to observe generally, even if your interests are very specific.

And when you do this, a common phenomenon that happens that whenever you start talking about one thing, you tend to meander and digress a lot when communicating. One thing connects with ten things and those ten connect with ten more, until you no longer remember where you started from. This makes it hard for you to close the loop and return to your original argument.

This is a malaise that plagues all curious individuals and we call it "scope creep."

Scope creep is when you find it hard to limit the scope of what you're talking about simply because it connects with so many different facets and domains of life. But to write crisply and succinctly, managing scope creep is key.

Why is scope creep bad?

Well, scope creep isn't necessarily bad, but it just so happens that the more surface area in your argument, the more likely that someone will come across a thing that concerns them enough to cast doubt on the rest of the argument.

Imagine that every word that you add to your argument has some probability of triggering a concern for some reader. The higher the number of words, and the higher the number of people who read it, the higher the likelihood that that argument triggers, and at that point it might snowball. Controlling the size of the audience sometimes isn't possible, but the number of words that readers must read is.

Think of developing the minimal-spanning argument.

You want to keep the main thrust of the argument as tight as possible to convince most readers, while having off-ramps for concerns as they crop up. 

Practical examples of this approach is linking essays you might have written previously, adding footnotes, or hinting at resolving a rabbit hole in a future essay. 

This is not about hiding relevant information; it's about not providing more loose, distracting threads than are necessary.

Sticking to the main argument and looping back to it after every sub-argument under the main one is the recipe for writing an essay that feels tight and builds up to a singular message.

Your intent might be genuine and you might wish to share so much more with the world (like I do right now), but as a writer, it will work against you.

Feel free to use this advice in your public and professional writing. You can do whatever the hell you want when writing for your own self.

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