Writing: Patterns Matter

Writing Patterns Matter

Now that we are all supposed to be staying home as much as possible, you MAY find yourself with extra time. I’m going to be working on some organizing and writing projects. I will have my teens at home so I might not have as much time as I thought though I am not going to complain about having extra time with my kids. I hope you find some time to work on projects you have been putting off. But let’s keep going on my tips for writing…

When working on a piece of writing, you may not consider the writing pattern in the beginning. And that’s ok. The most important thing is to first get all of that information, knowledge, analysis, correlation, and hypotheses out of your brain, database, and documents, and onto paper (or screen). When you begin polishing the piece, you will want to consider the writing pattern.

I think of the “pattern” as “how best to tell the story.” What order should the evidence points be told in so that it makes the most sense? Or delivers the most compelling argument? Or is clear and easy to follow and doesn’t require a lot of jumping back and forth while reading? There are several patterns that genealogical writing typically follows. And which one you use will depend on the story you are telling and/or on the evidence you have to present.

Tom Jones wrote the fantastic book, Mastering Genealogical Documentation, which addresses some of these patterns and more.1 Some of the patterns I use and see most often are:

  • Building Blocks: this type of organization treats each piece of evidence like a building block, each piece building on the one before it.


  • Syllogisms: uses if-then statements (if this is true then that must be true), useful in proof arguments and case studies that depend on indirect or conflicting evidence.


  • Mystery-Style: built by asking the research question first and then making the reader wait until the end before revealing the answer, all of the evidence pieces building suspense along the way.


  • Flashback-Style: asking and answering the research question upfront and then leading the reader through the evidence to the conclusion.


It isn’t always clear when you begin writing which pattern you should use. Especially with today’s cut and paste capabilities, you can play with the writing pattern quite easily. A word to the wise: make sure you save an original and various copies before you start playing! I’m never one to discredit those who use paper over the computer screen. Consider cutting (with scissors!) sections of your writing apart and physically rearranging them on a table to give you a visual idea of what these various writing patterns might look like. This may not work as well with syllogisms, but this can definitely work when determining between mystery, flashback, or building blocks.

I find this part of the writing process to be fun, much like rearranging quilt blocks to get different patterns. Some patterns will “look” better than others. Have your writing buddy give you their opinion on which pattern to use. But most of all, do it.

1. I don’t address all writing patterns here so pick up a copy of the book and give it a read.

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