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Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing samples

When conversing with another, you're bombarded with a host of impressions: his voice, his appearance, his facial expression, and his mannerisms. You're also usually formulating your next sentence. So you're generally not as analytical about what he says as you could be.

If you want a sense of how someone's brain works, take a look at something he's written. Without the other distractions, you can be alone with his thoughts.

In person, a forceful presentation can disguise a lack of originality or lack of logic. On paper, there's nothing to hide behind. It's just a brain and its thoughts, stripped down to their essences.

Also, since both reading and writing are solitary activities, neither you nor the writer will be influenced by self-consciousness, an emotion which can -- in certain circumstances -- lower IQs by up to 50 points. (Sociopaths, who don't suffer from self-consciousness, generally don't lose points thusly; shy types suffer the most precipitous drops.)

Some might say that writing is separate from other types of intelligence: it doesn't reflect mathematical ability, for example. And it is partly a function of practice. But this post is not about judging someone by his writing style, but rather by his logic and clarity of thought.

One thing writing definitely does not show is the ability to think fast on one's feet. Another argument against the writing-as-the-best-indicator theory is that some people don't bother to edit. A first draft with an apparent IQ of 100 can, after several rewritings, appear to have one of 150. Yet both can be by the same person.

Nonetheless, I've generally gotten a clearer sense of people from their writings than from their everyday conversation.

A parallel: if you find a beautiful woman witty and insightful, see if that impression holds up over an extended conversation on the phone. With the only physical distraction a plastic handset, you're sure to get a clearer picture.

Certain things, like figuring out if someone is a liar, are better done in person. Others, like peering at a brain, are sometimes best done from a distance.

Next time you're besotted, just ask for a writing sample. 


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, and all very true. How do you feel about judging someone based on their spelling skills? Julie

John Craig said...

Julie --
It occurred to me to mention that, but I decided against it since I was trying to concentrate on analyzing someone's thoughts, and spelling is partly a function of practice. But you're right, it's hard not to be influenced by seeing misspellings (as opposed to obvious typos), bad syntax, etc.