Columbia Missourian, April 17, 2017
It might seem a little out there, but today we talked about how words are really an abstract construction. Words are labels that we assign to things based on the way that we see them. But the way another person might see something could be completely different. For example, while a rose may seem red to us, it could appear pink to another person.
The world is too complex for us to be able to accurately describe using words, not only because we all see things differently, but because there are also so many different ways that we could describe one thing. The ladder of abstraction describes this perfectly – at the top of the ladder, the description is broad. For example, when describing evidence at an investigation, we would describe it broadly as “evidence” at the top of the ladder of abstraction. But at the bottom of the ladder of abstraction we would say something more specific, such as “bloody glove.” And then there’s the muddy middle, with all of the jargon that can be fed to journalists from sources. Jargon that journalists should be able to see past and explain more clearly in their writing.
I thought this lecture was really interesting. As journalists, it’s important to know what words to use and also what level of specificity, or abstraction, to use when writing specific stories. Our choice of words and specificity impacts both the quality of our writing and our credibility as a journalist. I can’t say that the abstraction of words was something I had considered before this semester, but now that I have I hope that I will be able to use it as an effective tool in my future writing.