Tips for lazy writers: the “Thought For The Day” pattern

Posted May 9, 2013 in How-to  |  No Comments so far

Thought For The Day is the short religious bit on Radio 4’s Today programme. Every day a different religious figure spends five minutes imparting a mini-sermon in the hope of providing listeners with some fleeting sense of spiritual enrichment.

Like many things in life, Thought For The Day has a pattern. It goes something like this:

  1. Talk about a topical event
  2. Somehow link the topical event to religion
  3. Talk about religion
  4. Conclude by referencing the topical event once more

Not everyone follows this pattern – Anne Atkins’ stream-of-consciousness scattergun of personal anecdotes consistently buck the trend – but by and large this is what you get when you listen to Thought For The Day. Here’s a recent-ish example from Canon Dr Alan Billings that allows us to see the pattern at work:

1. Talk about a topical event:

Over the weekend I looked at the new typology of social class that the BBC has just put on its website…

This was a reference to the Great British Class Calculator which had been doing the rounds on the web at the time.

2. Link the topical event to religion:

For Christians, the question of social class was unavoidable from the start, because Christianity first emerged in a highly stratified society of rich and poor, powerful and powerless, slave and free…

We could be diplomatic here and say that the segue into religious content is clearly signposted. Or we could not, and say instead that it has the subtlety of a reindeer.

3. Talk about religion:

Converts came from each of these groups…

As you’d expect, this forms the bulk of the text and is usually the section where Thought For The Day contributors make their essential points. It’s also where I tend to tune out.

4. Conclude by referencing the topical event once more:

…a healthy society is one where people recognise that what they have in common – their need of God’s grace – is far more significant than any ordering of social class.

Notice that it concludes with two words, “social class”, that appeared in the very first sentence – a classic top-and-tail technique that encloses the argument and gives the impression that it was actually pretty coherent and well-structured even if you did doze off for a while during the part about the Romans, Corinth and St Paul.

Making it work for you

It’s easy to mock this pattern, especially for those who are lazy secularists that see Thought For The Day as a loathsome combination of religiosity and getting up early in the morning. But before we rush to judgement it’s worth recognising its value for those who are also lazy writers.

It’s a pattern that can be applied to any topic, so if you’re ever asked to write a blog post for your employer or an article for a specialist magazine, and are short on time or energy, why not try using it?

To demonstrate its effectiveness I’ve set myself the challenge of using it to combine a recent current event, Sir Alex Ferguson’s resignation and the specialist topic of Eurozone monetary policy. I apologise for taking gross liberties with the facts in the passage below; I’m deeply ignorant about both of these subjects.

Manchester United fans around the world were shocked to learn yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager who has won their team countless trophies over the years, has resigned from the club. Many have voiced their concern that the glory days are over. Does Manchester United now face a crisis?

The same question might be asked about the eurozone. Despite coming through the Greek and Cypriot crises relatively unscathed the ECB faces stormy times ahead… [imagine another 200 words about ECB monetary policy, the general theme being that Mario Draghi is the right person to sort out all the problems]

…So as we can see there are many reasons to be optimistic. Mario Draghi may not be in the business of winning trophies, but unlike Sir Alex Ferguson we can count on him staying the course for the foreseeable future.

It’s crude but I hope that the lazy writers among you can see how it can be used to eke out a viable article from the most crude of premises, and with a minimal amount of effort. So if no other inspiration strikes you in the hours ahead, let that be your… thought, for the day.

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