Annotated examples of narration, exposition, definition, classification, description, process analysis, and persuasion.

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Photo by Gerald Grow

by Gerald Grow

When people use language, they don’t reinvent it every time they want to say something. They use certain recurring forms of communication. These forms work because both the speaker and the listener understand how to use them as a way of thinking. So do the writer and the reader.

Some of the “modes of discourse” (to use the formal name) such as narration, have been expertly used by humans since the first storytellers, and persuasion has existed since the first argument.

Most of the modes, however, gained so much power with the invention of writing and printing that it was as if they were reinvented then. When people read and go to school, among the most useful tools they learn are these modes of discourse, which become so internalized that they function without notice. …

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Build your day around the rhythms of the day. Forget clock-time, and make time to respond to what the day presents you. The greatest symphony in the world happens as the pre-dawn light rises into day and the sun comes up to the songs of birds. Make time for it, often.

Nature’s rhythms, because they are our own deepest rhythms, can be the greatest healer.

Consider this prescription for whatever ails you: Sunrise and sunset, each day, in silence and stillness, for two weeks.

Repeat as needed.


At least once, get up in the middle of the night, somewhere around 4 in the morning. Carefully go out to the edge of the known, the lighted world, or as far as you know to be safe for you, and tune in to the deepest hours of the night, the hours of greatest stillness, the huge hollow hours before dawn. …

What could happen if two fervently held, opposing rights become irreconcilable

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Come with me for a moment while I spin a historical fable about a country being torn apart.

It’s the 2050s. An issue bitterly divides the United States. It could be anything — racism, inequity, injustice, immigration, incarceration, environment, climate, health care, taxes, sexual abuse, gender, guns, censorship, the financial system, language, jobs, culture, or others. — We’ll focus on abortion.

Let’s say that abortion is legal in all 50 states, but many citizens remain fiercely divided about it. That sounds like a place to start our tale.

Much of U.S. history continues as it always has — as a struggle between competing rights. …

I felt re-baptized in the river that runs through everything

A stand of trees at sunset, waving as if blow by the light like a wind.
A stand of trees at sunset, waving as if blow by the light like a wind.
Wind in the Pines. Photo by Gerald Grow

I began working to see the world not as things but as processes, each interconnected to all the others, and all of them constantly changing.

I looked for signs of change in everything. If something looked permanent, I sought out the hidden maintenance — the repair, paint, and replacement on a building, for instance — that gave it the illusion of being unchanging.

I learned to think of trees not as things, but as the presently visible manifestation of an ongoing activity: treeing. The treeing may at this moment be in spring budding, or in autumnal gold, or in a winter bareness — but it was all treeing: a tree moving through seasons the way waves move through water: seed, sprout, shoot, then decades of cycling through the process of treeing. …

Some experiences are so powerful that they need a symbolic image to represent them

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Digital photograph by Gerald Grow

After I retired, I immersed myself in making wildly experimental digital photographs, as a way of doing something completely unlike anything I had ever done.

After a decade, I collected 75 images, along with some writings, in Dancing with a Camera in the Presence of Light, a $2.99 ebook available through Apple Books and Amazon Kindle.

Because few people find that book, I am publishing it in parts on Medium because I love these pictures, the experience of creating them, and the writing that comes with them — and I hope others will, too. …

Even if you do not write with these words, you think with the concepts behind them

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Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

When you write, transitions carry your reader from phrase to phrase, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and through the major divisions of your article.

Although you may be able to write clearly without using transition words, they help readers know what they are reading about, how they got there, and where the thought is leading them. In early drafts, it is better to overuse transitions; you can always cut them later.

Readers need transitional words to guide thrm through each step of the…

And how to avoid them

In 2005, David Sumner, an outstanding journalism professor at Ball State, conducted a survey of magazine editors to discover what they considered to be the most frequent problems in the work of beginning writers.

More than 15 years later, the same problems continue to appear in online publications— so if you write for publication, this research might help you on a point or two.

Below, I’ve listed the 18 problems editors identified in Sumner’s study — with the most important first — followed by some suggestions on what to do if you think you might have one of these problems. …

a.k.a. Theme Statement, Nutgraf, Billboard, Status Statement, etc.

Feature articles customarily start with an indirect opening — often an anecdote showing someone who exemplifies the topic of the article, as in this made-up example:

The problem developed so slowly that Suzie did not notice how she was arrving later and later to class. At first, she arrived only minutes late. But by the fourth week of term, she was blundering into the classroom halfway through each lecture, disrupting class, missing assignments, and falling irretrievably behind.

Indirect openings can serve to attract readers to the article, focus their concerns, and provide a rewarding reading experience. …

Learn from the Information-Rich and Write for the Information-Poor

The service article is one of the most valuable forms of writing today. Such an article provides readers with knowledge they can make use of to improve their lives.

After reading a service article, readers are empowered to know how to:

  • understand something better,
  • decide whether it applies to them, and, if it does,
  • start taking action on it.

Here is a helpful guide for planning and writing a service article — in this example, a hypothetical article on depression.

Opening Anecdote

Show someone who has the problem — depression. Show this in a way that raises the key topics the article will address. …

Most publications are defined by a recurring set of article formulas

Formulas are useful both to readers and writers. Readers recognize formulas, adapt their reading methods to them, and use the parts of the formula in comprehending and remembering what is read.

Writers use formulas to organize stories — and so do not have to invent a new structure with every article. Working backward from what the formula calls for, the writer can thi nk upthe interview questions needed to elicit the kind of information necessary to fulfill the formula’s demands.

Editors may insist that they want you to be original. …


Gerald Grow

Gerald Grow is a retired journalism professor, cartoonist, and photographer. More at

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