linear and sequential

Discussion in 'English Only' started by evergreenhomeland, Dec 13, 2013.

  1. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Hello everyone:

    What does "linear and sequential" mean in following sentences?The cause, I assume, is that most people now get their information from random images on a screen—pop-ups, windows, and sidebars—or from scraps of talk on a digital phone. But writing is linear and sequential; Sentence B must follow Sentence A, and Sentence C must follow Sentence B, and eventually you get to Sentence Z.

    The source is the essay "Writing English as a Second Language" by William Zinsser from The American Scholar.
    Thanks in advance

  2. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm not sure that Zinsser intends much difference of meaning between linear and sequential (on which you've already started a thread, EGHL).

    My guess is that he's using two similar adjectives to project his meaning forcefully.
  3. velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    From the examples he gives, I think "linear and sequential" is meant to convey "not random or intermittent."
  4. TripDontSlip New Member

    English - USA
    What he's saying is that nowadays people interact with forms of media that inherently promote a disjointed mode of communication. Linear and sequential means two things:

    1. Linear: Writing must follow a line of reasoning. It should progress along this line of reasoning from beginning to end. That is, it should seek to express one message.
    2. Sequential: Writing must follow a line of reasoning in steps that make intuitive sense. A lot of people tend to write in a way that jumps around. They do not follow a clear progression of logical transitions to support their message. Often times people try to stick to one message, but their writing is not sequential so it undermines the linearity. I'll give you a brief example:

    We need to manage our food resources. The growing population will place increasing demands on farmers. Food resources are adequate. A significant portion of the population suffers from starvation. The food needs to be distributed to feed everyone.

    I see a lot of people interspersing short, declarative statements in a way that is similar to what's above. The problem is they do not possess the literary exposure to coordinate the sentences in a steady, methodical writing style. For example, once the writer establishes a need, then he/she follows the sentence with an opaque sequence alluding to farmers. By the end of the second sentence, it is not clear where the writer is going with his prose. One might surmise that the second sentence is an attempt at providing support to the first sentence much in the same way a thesis progresses from a claim to the evidence supporting it. The problem is that managing food resources is one thing. The focus on farmers in the second sentence throws the cogency into disarray. It's quite easy to recover from two sentences that have a tenuous link. The third sentence confounds everything. It seemingly contradicts everything and provides no context or continuity.

    The REAL intended message: The world produces enough food to feed all its peoples. The difficulty arises in how to effectively distribute food stocks. because they will do no good unless they can reach those hungry people who desperately need them.

    I would argue that a lot of writers do not avail themselves of simple transition words and conjunctions. The sentences need to build upon one another to support an intended message. Using certain words can help bridge the gap that is superimposed between sentences which, by definition, must have enough integrity to function independently of one another on merit.

    Good sentence structure is not a panacea, but it greatly minimizes the risk of incoherence going from one idea to another while trying to explicate a theme or a series of interrelated messages.
  5. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Thanks for your hard and soft explanation.(special thanks to TripDontSlip for your very abstract explanation).

    After read your suggestions, I think Zinsser is talking about two things in "linear and sequencing".

    "linear" possible mean being plain and simple in each fact or event of a story, whereas "sequencing" means carry out the narrative flow which is made up of lots of events or combinations of individual events in a logical or reasonable way.

    Throughout his article, he insisted on the "linear", but does not elaborate "sequencing" in details.
  6. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    In this context, I'd say linear should be contrasted with holistic, and sequential with random. This perspective is contained in earlier posts here.

    I don't want to get off-topic (not me!), but I'd like to comment briefly on this … topic in light of EGHL's recent posts.

    I agree with Zinsser that effective writing (and logic) is typically sequential — you shouldn't just jump around from one thing to another, unless you have reason to. But I think the best writing is often a combination of linear and holistic thought. Presenting a "big picture" view of what you're trying to say can be followed up with linear detail that takes the reader through a process of reasoning.

    I suppose Zinsser might agree with this (obviously, anyone disagreeing with me is on very thin ice :rolleyes: ), but I'm not sure. I'd say I understand the argument he's making in that presentation (a four-syllable word ending in -ion that could be replaced by speech), but I think he's being a bit of an extremist. He himself refers to international (foreign) students sending him invitations (calls). He describes Arabic as intentionally (by design) pleasing, with lots of decoration (frills). He talks about education (schools) instructions (guide), and conversation (speech).

    I admit I'm forcing the point here, but I'd say he's doing the same. There's no doubt that long, multisyllabic Latin-based nouns are frequently abused in modern-day business and academic writing, but they do have their place.
  7. velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    "Linear and sequential writing" is what Zinsser associates with logical thought. In this paragraph, Zinsser says "The epidemic I'm most worried about ... is the death of logical thinking ... most people now get their information from random images on a screen - or from scraps of talk on a digital phone." The examples he gives: "pop-ups, windows and sidebars" are of random chunks of information that break up the screen and confuse the eye and brain. They are not linear. Logical thinking produces writing that guides the reader in a linear way, not leaving him to piece out the information he needs from here and there.

    "Most people now get their information from ... scraps of talk on a digital phone" does puzzle me greatly, since scraps of talk from mouth to ear, or on any old phone, should be equally disturbing. Since they are scraps, I take it they are not sequential ("in regular succession without gaps" The FreeDictionary): "scraps of talk" suggests that meaning has to be pieced together from discontinuous talk. I have no idea why he thinks we get our information from scraps of talk on a digital phone, or why it should be any less logical than any other scrap of talk.
  8. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Thanks for your insights about the transcript given by Zinsser.

    One thing to note is there are a few narrative forms in writings, in other words, organizing narrative flow.
  9. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    >> What does "linear and sequential" mean in following sentences?

    He tells you what he means after the semicolon:

    "But writing is linear and sequential; Sentence B must follow Sentence A, and Sentence C must follow Sentence B, and eventually you get to Sentence Z."

    Writing is made up of sentences. They are written in a straight line; they are linear. They follow one after the other, with no gaps; they are sequential.
  10. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    I think he means more than that. Stuff like "What does the reader need to know next?" and "One thought per sentence."

    I should admit that I'm not altogther clear on exactly how he is using these terms. He says, "Clarity, brevity, and sequential order will be crucial to your success." No mention of linearity there. Thomas Tompion may have had a good point earlier: "two similar adjectives to project his meaning forcefully."
  11. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    Why not take him at his word - "One thought per sentence"? :)
  12. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    That is "linear".
  13. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    :D or "sequential" ... only joking.

    My previous remark was only directed to those who seem to me to be intent on mining the OP for more meaning than it was ever intended to convey, or is capable of supplying.
  14. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Thanks for your help.
  15. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Is there a "linear writing" concept in English writing?
  16. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    No, you've conjured this from your imagination.

    Just kidding. ;)

    There seems to some controversy about this. You might want to review this page on Stephanie's English BlogSpot: The Writing Process and Transitioning Students

    I'm confident you'll get better responses. :eek:
  17. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Thanks. That site is not accessible due to Great Wall.
  18. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

  19. evergreenhomeland Senior Member

    Thank you two so much.

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