learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

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learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

Robert Louis Stevenson said it clearly: “Don’t write merely to be understood. Write so

you cannot possibly be misunderstood.” Do that and you’ll never have a problem with

your papers. What’s crystal clear to you may be unintelligible to a reader without your

experience or background. One person’s “simple” is another person’s “huh?” Have someone

else read your writing — a classmate, your spouse, or a friend. Ask them for constructive

and objective criticism. Don’t be thin-skinned. Your masterpiece may be

maligned or murdered, but you’ll learn more that way.

If you can’t have a second set of eyes on your work, reread it yourself. Put it aside first,

for as long as you can. Try hard to be objective, and read it as though you have no prior

knowledge of the subject. Ask yourself, as often as possible while you read: “Is this clear?

Does it make sense?”

After I bought a condo in 1992, I tried to find out how much insurance I needed for my

unit. In the documents from the association, I found the following 128-word sentence:

Each Unit Owner or any tenant of such Unit Owner should, at his own expense, obtain

additional insurance for his own Unit and for his own benefit and to obtain insurance coverage

upon his personal property, for any “betterments and improvements” made to the

Unit and for his personal liability, provided that no Unit Owner or tenant shall acquire or

maintain such additional insurance coverage so as to decrease the amount which the

Board of Directors, on behalf of all Unit Owners, may realize under any insurance policy

which it may have in force on the property at any particular time or to cause any insurance

coverage maintained by the Board of Directors to be brought into contribution with such

additional insurance coverage obtained by the Unit Owner. (Can anyone tell me how

much insurance I should have bought?)

In February 1990 a member of Congress described his position on abortion. As

reported by the Washington Times on 13 February 1990, he said: “I have come to the conclusion

that I must, and have modified my position and that the position that grants choice

is, upon fresh examination, not at all inconsistent with my overall philosophy.” (Was he

for or against?)

A suburban Washington, DC apartment complex sent a letter to its residents warning

of the likelihood of increased crime during the holidays: “We are sure that you are aware

that during the Christmas Season the Police Department is plagued by shoplifting, breaking

and entering, and a general overall increase in crime.” (It’s no wonder crime is so bad

in the streets. We can’t even keep the criminals out of the Police Department!)

Speaking of crime, how about this item from the Durham, NC Morning Herald?

“Durham police detectives say [the victim] was stabbed repeatedly during an apparent

struggle between her car and the side kitchen door.” (What a sight that must have been: a

car and a kitchen door locked in mortal combat!)

We’ve all seen our own government’s bureaucratic writing. Imagine the droughtstricken

farmer who read the following and tried to apply for aid under Public Law

100-387:

9

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