Osaka Castle Moat

Idea Completion—So What?

Idea completion is essential to strong writing, yet people forget it all the time. Do you?

To put it simply, if a statement lacks a clear connection or significance, it’s incomplete. Sometimes this is called “developing” ideas. But that suggests it’s something optional and additional–which it’s not. If you fail to state the significant consequences of an idea, you’ve made a mistake. Worse, if you introduce a concept or quote without explaining it, you’re probably just wasting everyone’s time.

Examples! Please compare:

Example #1 – The paragraph with incomplete ideas

Consumption often reflects cultural preferences. Consumers buy goods for their material needs, but at the same time they enjoy spiritual and emotional pleasure and satisfaction, and from that satisfaction they obtain a certain identity. Featherstone proposes that the consumer culture has adopted a new type of self-concept, “the performing self,” which emphasizes appearance, display, and the management of impressions (187). By focusing on cultures’ consumption of fashion brands, Elliott and Davies show that identity is performed in a person’s movement in a culture from being new to being respected (138). Therefore, consumer choice is a cultural preference.

Example #2 – The paragraph with complete ideas

Consumption often reflects cultural preferences. Consumers buy goods for their material needs, but at the same time these purchases provide spiritual and emotional pleasure. This pleasure arises from the satisfaction of internal values and the affirmation from other cultural members who buy similar things. The emotional pleasure from the affirmation then strengthens the consumers’–and the general–cultural identity. Based on this, Featherstone proposes that the consumer culture has adopted a new type of self-concept, “the performing self,” which emphasizes appearance, display, and the management of impressions (187). Because the culture rewards people by acknowledging their consumption, any cultural member is encouraged to consume in a performative way. The performing self is further illustrated by Elliott’s and Davies’ study of a person’s advancement in a culture (138). The repeated purchase of particular fashion brands cyclically strengthens the individual’s sense of identity, and that individual’s performance then sets expectations for the performance of other new members. Thus, consumer choice reflects cultural preferences. In fact, in modern consumer culture, consumption and culture work cyclically to define and reaffirm each other.

Explanation

Wew! That’s a big difference. I would call this an extreme example, but the fact is, many people might read that first paragraph and think, “eh, sounds good enough to me!”

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That being said, I would guess that after a few classes, most college students complete most of their ideas. But rarely all. And even the best writers will leave concepts unexplored or unexplained. They might consider a significance or connection to be obvious, forgetting that the reader lacks their background. Thus, checking a paragraph for completed ideas is an essential part of everyone’s editing toolkit.

So let’s break down how I revised Example 1 into Example 2.

Incomplete ideas show up in three places:

  1. After the statement of a new idea
  2. After a quote or reference
  3. At the end of a paragraph

Almost every sentence in Example 1 is incomplete. We can identify their incompleteness by asking questions about them. You can always ask some random question (“But what would Bruce Lee say?”), but that’s not helpful. The type of questions you want to ask are those necessary for the reader to follow the writer’s thinking.

The most important of all such questions is the editors’ star opportunity to be obnoxiously unimpressed. After every sentence, you get to scoff and say, “So what???” Make sure to scoff and sound like a real jerk.

But really, this is the best question to ask, because the most important part of any idea is its significance. (“Significance, sure, *scoff* but so what?”) The importance of an idea is important because it connects an idea with past ideas and because it opens paths to new ideas. Good writing is all about connections.

The questioning process:

Sentence 1 – Okay

Consumption often reflects cultural preferences. [the next sentence begins to explain this, so this is fine.]

Sentence 2 – Two incomplete statements

Consumers buy goods for their material needs, but at the same time they enjoy spiritual and emotional pleasure and satisfaction, and from that satisfaction they obtain a certain identity. [where does this spiritual and emotional pleasure come from? why?][what do you mean by obtain a certain identity? so what?]

Sentence 3 – Incomplete quote

Featherstone proposes that the consumer culture has adopted a new type of self-concept, “the performing self,” which emphasizes appearance, display, and the management of impressions (187). [so what? how does this connect to consumption practices?]

Sentence 4 – Incomplete quote

By focusing on cultures’ consumption of fashion brands, Elliott and Davies show that identity is performed in a person’s movement in a culture from being new to being respected (138). [but how are fashion brands involved in this movement? what is the significance of this performance?]

Sentence 5 – Incomplete conclusion

Therefore, consumer choice is a cultural preference. [woa! big jump there. why? how does what you said lead to this? and then so what?]

The rewrite:

Sentence 1 remains:

Consumption often reflects cultural preferences.

Sentence 2 becomes:

Consumers buy goods for their material needs, but at the same time these purchases provide spiritual and emotional pleasure. This pleasure arises from the satisfaction of internal values and the affirmation from other cultural members who buy similar things. The emotional pleasure from the affirmation then strengthens the consumers’–and the general–cultural identity.

  • I split the idea into parts and explained each connection as clearly as I could.
  • “and the general” is an unessential addition to the explanation right here, but it is still an important point because it supports my explanation later on.
  • I structure the sentences so that the last part answers the “so what” question.

Sentence 3 becomes:

Based on this, Featherstone proposes that the consumer culture has adopted a new type of self-concept, “the performing self,” which emphasizes appearance, display, and the management of impressions (187). Because the culture rewards people by acknowledging their consumption, any cultural member is encouraged to consume in a performative way.

  • I added a sentence that connects this to my earlier explanation and language.

Sentence 4 becomes:

The performing self is further illustrated by Elliott’s and Davies’ study of a person’s advancement in a culture (138). The repeated purchase of particular fashion brands cyclically strengthens the individual’s sense of identity, and that individual’s performance then sets expectations for the performance of other new members.

  • I changed the beginning of this to clarify the connection to the previous idea. This also clarifies the significance of this point as a further illustration.
  • I added an explanation of the process, mentioning fashion brands. I repeat the word “performance” to clarify the connection to previous ideas.

Sentence 5 becomes:

Thus, consumer choice reflects cultural preferences. In fact, in modern consumer culture, consumption and culture work cyclically to define and reaffirm each other.

  • Now that the previous point is explained and connected to the rest of the paragraph, this final point makes much more sense. The logical gap has been filled.
  • I added a sentence to answer the “so what” question. This idea of cyclicality advances the original claim of the paragraph, leaving the reader with a sense of progress and accomplishment. This also makes it very easy to expand the conclusion or transition to a new paragraph.

Conclusion

Congrats! You are now more aware of and skilled at recognizing incomplete ideas. This is a difficult concept to illustrate and explain, so please leave questions in the comments and point out where my own explanation may be incomplete.

And as always, remember that there will be countless exceptions. Writing is a creative and organic skill. Maybe you want to leave an idea unconnected because of rhythm, because you want to be deceptive, or because you feel for some reason the reader needs to make the connection herself. Just feel out the situation, and always try to imagine the thought process of a reader unfamiliar with your topic.

Happy writing,

David

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