Occasionally, something simple but unique comes along to add a little pizzazz to our writing practices.
So what exactly is that something that has become my go-to strategy whenever I sit down to write? As you’ll have already worked out from the title of this blog post, it’s DROPS.
So What Is DROPS?
DROPS is a really simple – but surprisingly effective – acronym that can be used as a checklist for almost any written content.
And what does each letter of the acronym represent?
Range of Punctuation
Take any piece of writing, and the well-judged application of DROPS can have a transformative impact. I devised this strategy as an English teacher, tried it out with my classes and have never looked back. DROPS is proof that simplicity often works best. My usual approach would be to ask students to produce a piece of ‘diagnostic’ writing and then plan a redraft based on the DROPS strategy. Over 90 percent of the time the end result would be akin to radical makeover of cosmetic surgery proportions.
We’re not schoolchildren, of course. We already have at least half-decent writing skills – hopefully! But does that mean that DROPS can’t work for us too? Of course not.
It’s not mind-blowing. It’s not revolutionary. But it’s another tool to have in our kit. And every little helps…
D is for Devices
Well placed devices can perk up almost any written text. The secret is to be judicious and select the right devices for your content. Here are some of my favourite devices for perking up prose:
Repetition – Repetition by default does not effective writing make. However, deliberate use of repetition can raise the bar of your written content and can take a range of different forms. Try epizeuxis (immediate repetition of a word) to really drive a point home: it is always, always effective. Or try diacope: inserting one word in between your repetition, as in Bond, James Bond. It’s impactful, really impactful.
Statistics – There may be some truth in the maxim of lies, damn lies and statistics. But there is little doubt that numerical data adds weight to your content. There is something about numerical facts that add a slice of conviction. And there are almost as many ways of expressing statistics as there are numbers themselves. These three are just for starters:
87% of respondents support the claim that…
7 out of 10 believe that …
The number of claimants has doubled in the past year…
Anecdotes – Those wee illustrative stories are woefully under-used, in my view. In a sense, the anecdote is the opposite of statistics: where statistics add generalised weight to your commentary, anecdotal detail is individualised, emotive and humanising. When Steven Spielberg made Schindler’s List in monochrome, he pinpointed one small girl by having her coat depicted in vibrant red. Citing the number of deaths wrought by the Holocaust is an abstraction, a number – yet shining the spotlight on one victim packs an emotional punch.
Devices are many and varied. Take your pick from similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, rhetorical questions, incrementum …
The list of potential devices is a lengthy one, so there’s no excuse for not using them!
R is for Range of Punctuation
Punctuation, or lack thereof, can make or break a piece of writing. We all use end punctuation to demarcate our writing as a matter of course. The addition of internal punctuation can make all the difference, though, in terms of pace, tone and meaning. Want a dramatic pause? Throw in a dash. Introducing a list? The colon does the job.
We have a huge range at our disposal. My most common piece of advice in the classroom, though, is to check our use of commas. More often than you might think the comma can be replaced with alternative punctuation – even if it’s just a full stop.
O is for Openings
Much like the blog headline determines whether or not our blog is read, the opening hook does a very similar job. Who wants to stick with a piece of writing that’s pedestrian from the start? Life really is too short. Any one of the devices mentioned earlier would serve as an effective method to hook the reader. Depending on the purpose of your writing, an outrageous hook can also be remarkably impactful; I’m thinking specifically here of the opening of Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies: ‘His children are falling from the sky’. The ‘children’ in question here are, in fact, hawks. But the reader is already hooked.
Openings don’t only refer to the initial hook, of course. The opening of each paragraph is similarly important: Does it aid cohesion by linking to previous content? Does it make use of a discourse marker to act as a signpost for the reader?
And then we have the opening of sentences. When proofreading my work I pay particular attention to my sentence openers. It’s amazing how often we fall back on ‘The’ and ‘As’. These have their place, of course. But just as often the addition of an adverbial phrase, a preposition or a fronted simile can make all the difference.
P is for Posh Words
I’m not really advocating that we overload our content with ridiculous verbosity – ‘posh’ is a catch-all term that kids can relate to as a means of widening – and deepening -their vocabulary. And neither is it about littering our prose with long and obscure words; this smacks of over-use of a thesaurus. It’s more about selecting exactly the right word. With kids, I often use colour vocabulary as an example of this – I’m very keen on making sure they are armed with a range of shades for each colour so that when they are describing colour they can employ exactly the right hue. Words like ‘emerald’ and ‘lime’ are clearly both green, but emit completely different connotations. The paint charts we pick up when we decorate are great for this kind of distinction and precision.
S is for Structured Paragraphs
Unless you’re James Joyce it’s highly unlikely that you can carry off an amorphous smattering of loosely structured prose. Even if it’s just in your head, structure is key. Knowing what each paragraph is going to be about before you start writing gives shape. This is patronising stuff, though. But what I would like to do, here, is share a strategy for structured editorial writing which works in the classroom but also helps me with my own written arguments.
You’ve heard of the relay race, right? The track sport in which the baton is passed between four runners? Thinking about this, I realised that the principles of the relay race can be easily applied to written arguments. And this is as close I ever want to get to anything sport-related in my life!
So, you start off with your generic argument in your head. To use classroom practice as an example again, the task might be to argue for or against homework. Whichever you choose, come up with four reasons (mini-arguments!) for holding this point of view. These reasons then need to be place in order of strength. As in the relay race, the strongest, most compelling reason is left until last. The second-strongest argument should be used first. The other two can be placed in any order. The reason for the strongest argument being held back for the finale is this: prior to writing about this, you should acknowledge the counter-argument/s, the alternative point of view – which can then be blown away by the conviction of your strongest reason, the ace card you have held up your sleeve. It’s somewhat crude, but the over-all structure goes something like this:
- Introduction – use an arresting hook!
- Coverage of second-strongest reason for your opinion.
- Coverage of another reason for holding your opinion.
- Coverage of another reason for holding your opinion.
- Acknowledge the counter-argument/s – then…
- Blow away the counter-opinion/s by throwing everything you’ve got at your strongest argument!
- Strong closing.
Another tip about structure that I’ve always found useful is to hold back my work so I can see the outline of my paragraphs from an objective distance. Is there any variation in my paragraph shapes or are they all boringly uniform? Do I have a short, impactful paragraph?
If you’re interested in different strategies for structuring paragraphs in creative writing, watch out for that in a future blog.
As I mentioned at the start, there is nothing revolutionary about the DROPS strategy. However, I hope you find this strategy useful as a writing checklist. I’d love to hear your comments or – even better – any writing tips that you can share!
Blog by Amanda Ellison