Taken Out Of Context

There’s a reason people put great value in proper context. Have you ever seen an athlete or politician say their quote was taken out of context? Sometimes, they say that to try and downplay what they said. Other times, the media are to blame. Regardless, there’s a lesson to be learned.

Context is imperative to the written word. It’s the glue that holds a story together and gives readers a frame of reference. The best way to emphasize its importance is to remove it from a story. Let’s take a story I covered while working in Wausau. A couple years ago, a band of Wausau residents tried to start a movement to dissolve the city’s municipal airport. Many complained that the airport didn’t serve a purpose, other than for the area’s wealthy to have a place to store their expensive toys.

The story seems fairly straightforward, but something’s missing. How did this movement start? Who or what prompted these actions? Now let’s add a little context. Most of the residents lived by the airport, and were upset with a decision by officials to uproot several trees just outside the airport’s boundaries. Those officials contested that the trees created issues for pilots trying to land on the runaway. The city’s Park and Rec Department also confirmed that the trees were either dead or dying and should be removed any way. The protesters, however, took it a step further and questioned the validity of the airport, and an entire can of worms was opened.

As you can see, there was a lot more there than just a movement to disband the airport. Without that context, a reader is left with a plethora of questions and a narrow view on the whole story. When writing, it’s important to remember the value of context to your readers. It gives readers valuable information and provides the writer more authority and command over their craft. Give it a try and see what it does for your writing. It might surprise you.