Scientists distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research. Applied research is done to solve specific problems, while basic research has no purpose except to expand knowledge.

The distinction provides a handy analogy for different kinds of writing practice. Some of the Methodical Writing Clinics are focused on specific problems. Some are designed to build basic knowledge and skills.

In one clinic, we practiced writing technique and methods for promoting events. In another we focused on writing for squeeze pages. In those cases, we applied the knowledge to a specific communications problem.

But at this recent meetup, we wrote to build basic knowledge.  The exercises in “Engage the Senses: Writing with Evocative Details,” were designed to broaden participant’s writing knowledge.

First of all, what does it mean to engage the senses? What is an ‘evocative’ detail? We started the workshop with a discussion about parts of speech and the importance of word choice.

For instance, nouns can move from general or specific, as if on a continuum. “Dog” is more general than “doberman,” which is more general than “black-and-tan doberman.” With different words, we practiced moving back-and-forth along the continuum.

Simile and analogy are other ways to engage the senses. Our next set of writing exercises reinforced the power of comparing two (seemingly) dissimilar things. As workshop participants wrote about similes, their writing was imaginative, evocative and energizing.

We also talked about turning abstract concept into evocative details. Specifically, we attempted to translate words like “loyalty,” into sensory details with an exercise that began, “Loyalty sounds like…,” “Loyalty tastes like…” and so on.

We ended with an exercise that encouraged us to look closely and develop the instinct to fill in details. We viewed a paragraph with a set of descriptive statements about it. Then we practiced re-writing those sentences to be more evocative.