Writing Sense

Using all Five Senses
by Kat Seidemann

Recently, on a popular cooking competition show, I heard a person say that cooking is the only art form that uses at least four of our five senses. I thought about that statement for a minute, and decided I disagree. Writing, especially creative writing, gains the most depth and meaning by incorporating all five senses.

Poetry at its best brings in all five senses through the cunning use of words, but there is more than that. In poetry, the lines and breaks are visually engaging, the words can be spoken aloud, the page reflects light back to the eye, and the tome has its own heft and scent. Even in research writing you can include senses. Some diseases are recognized by senses other than sight – sweet-smelling breath is a symptom of diabetes, heart murmurs are heard, and swollen lymph nodes are found during palpation. When a researcher does observation (sight) she also hears, touches, and smells her surroundings – these senses provide valuable information for her scientific findings and can be shared in her articles. These are just two examples of the way creating a written piece engages the senses.

When writing an academic paper it can be useful to think about engaging your audience through the use of senses. Consider this: If you’re writing a paper on Malcolm X you can do more than report on what you have read. You can also imagine what Malcolm X smelled on the streets of Harlem, how the bars on his prison cell felt beneath his hands, how the prison food tasted, what the crowd sounded like as he approached the podium. By imaging yourself in your subject’s place, you can gain a fuller understanding of the subject. You need not include your imagined senses in your writing but your new understanding will transfer to your paper, making it fuller and richer.

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