07. February 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

SPOCK, the editing code. Podcast 08

How we create convincing and logical communication through one of OSP's favorite Editing Codes: SPOCK

In our 8th episode, our host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We discuss how we use the Editing Code SPOCK to deliver clarity, maintain the reader’s trust, and help everyone’s communication live long and prosper. 


This is the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At OSP, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.


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Use logic to support your point - the SPOCK Editing Code

The SPOCK editing code falls in phase A. Scope & Narrative Structure, in the OSP Pillar  of Clarity. Our entry defines it thus:

SPOCK – Use clear, logical thinking. Avoid logical fallacies. Check that all evidence is directly connected with a cause/effect relationship to the claim.

As many readers have already guessed, this code’s name originated from Spock, a half-human, half-Vulcan character in Star Trek. The defining characteristic of Vulcans is that they are logical beings, and embracing logic is critical to ensuring a stable foundation in our writing process. Or as Spock might say, “Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

Using SPOCK means supporting logic in your writing in multiple ways. 

  • Maintain a clear path from one point to another
  • Support your points with evidence
  • Move from sentence to sentence in a progressive way
  • Use specifics instead of generalizations
  • Avoid logical fallacies 

Using logical thinking in your writing is rewarded with clarity for the reader. Clarity in turn fosters trust and presents your piece as credible. This gets your reader on board, and they are more likely to be convinced or compelled to action.

SPOCK Examples:

Not-so-SPOCK: “Software developers don’t trust marketing.”

++ SPOCK: “Some software developers prefer marketing that spells out the benefits of a new technology clearly and credibly.

As a writer

As a writer, SPOCK is useful at every level and phase of a piece. In the planning phase, our content briefs help us lay this logical foundation, immediately defining the “bones” of an article and the connections between them. 

“SPOCK is essentially a structural cue for me,” says Jam. “When I am checking the brief, then the outline, and then filling in the rest of the article, I am making sure that every thought that starts is then completed. And every claim I make is followed up by something that shows that to be true, reasonable, and linked with some proof point.”

As an editor

SPOCK is a powerful workhorse for any editor, but you don’t typically saddle it up until later in the editing process. That’s because SPOCK requires depth and thoughtfulness on the part of the editor. Felicity agrees. “SPOCK is going to be picked up on your second or third read-through, not on your first or in the Positivity Pass. That's when you're reading carefully and the time is right to ask questions like, ‘Did you mean this? It looks like you're saying this? Is that what you’re going for?’. This allows the writer to double-check their pieceand if appropriate, add more words, separate thoughts out, or add evidence to really make your logical progression clear.”

We have really emphasized making sure you include evidence to back up claims. But remember that evidence can consist of various things, not just hard data. “Evidence when backing up a claim could be an anecdote, a quote, or empirical data,” says Jam

As a reader

Using SPOCK means not breaking the spell for a reader — which a disruption in logic (or multiple instances of it) can do. The reader’s attention is the most important thing for any writer, and earning their trust is foundational to keeping it. Felicity agrees. “If you skip ahead to make your point without establishing how you got there, you're at risk of neglecting SPOCK and losing your reader.”

Jam also emphasizes keeping the reader’s trust. “Avoiding rhetorically dishonest gestures is a point that really came home for me in Frances Frei’s TED Talk,” he says. “She talks about trust as essentially a triangle between logic, empathy, authenticity, which dovetails closely with how we regard communication at OSP. So Frances Frei says, ‘If you're not logical, if you're just talking nonsense to someone, how can they possibly trust you? You cannot build up trust with someone if you're not presenting your clear, rational logical thoughts to them.’”

Creating logical communication takes practice — join us!

Using the SPOCK Editing Code to ensure your communication lives long and prospers!

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin.

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Episode Transcript

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords transcription team ... 

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate connect, grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about employing logic in your writing with the editing code SPOCK. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, Communicate, Connect, and Grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about using logical thinking with our editorial code SPOCK.

Carl Richards  0:59  
The SPOCK editing code falls into the scope and narrative structure phase of the editing process. And it's about using sound reasoning and directly tying evidence to your points. In our documentation about this code. It says, "Use clear logical thinking. Avoid logical fallacies. Check that all evidence is directly connected with a cause or effect relationship to the claim."

Jeffrey A. McGuire  1:24  
Hello, everyone, Jeffrey McGuire here, co-founder of open strategy partners. And today we're going to be talking about logic. The word SPOCK appears in our code list. And I am a little bit embarrassed to say that I named this code SPOCK because it's about logic. And I like Star Trek. So there's that SPOCK is very simple, granular, straightforward. And it is use clear logical thinking, apply that to your writing, apply that to your content.

Christine Beuhler  1:57  
I'm Christine Buehler, and I'm a Communication Consultant at OSP. And I work on writing and editing and strategizing communication for our clients. The SPOCK code is just to make sure that we are being logical in a piece of writing, you know, like, there's, we want to show cause and effect. You know, we don't want to make anything up or have any claims that you know, aren't based on evidence, SPOCK is just avoiding logical fallacies and living long and prospering.

Felicity Brand  2:43  
Hi, my name is Felicity brand. I am a communications consultant at OSP. The SPOCK editing code is about using logic to support your point when you're writing, I think the origin of the name of this code is from Star Trek. SPOCK is a character who is half human, half Vulcan. And the defining characteristic of Vulcans is that they are very logical beings. So SPOCK is about logic. And that means having a clear path from one point to another in your writing. And it also means supporting your points with evidence in the definition of SPOCK, we say avoid logical fallacies. 

Felicity Brand  3:24  
And what do we mean by a logical fallacy? There's a lot written about fallacy. It's a large area in the world of rhetoric. And here we mean moving from one thought to another in your writing in a logical progressive way. Also some common examples of fallacies starting with faulty assumption or premise, being vague using generalizations or an error in assigning causation. This therefore that so SPOCK is about not just being in the neighborhood of logic or tangentially relevant, it really is about taking your audience on your journey with you moving from one point to another, so that as the writer, you can make the point you want to make using clear logical thinking and your writing brings clarity, clarity, fosters trust, and presents your pieces credible, which gets your reader onside and they're more likely to be convinced and compelled to action. In your CTA. 

Felicity Brand  4:30  
When we're talking about SPOCK, we want to avoid generalizations. So some examples of generalizations are a sentence like software developers are very cynical about marketing. That's a massive generalization. Here's another programmers are constantly building side projects. If we're looking at those sentences in relation to SPOCK, I would expect there would be sentences that come before those. I would expect there would be some evidence to support that point, but For the writer then moves on to make the next point that they're trying to say.

Carl Richards  5:06  
Now we're going to look at how this code is used in your typical workday as an editor.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  5:11  
As an editor. When I'm looking at content, one of the things that I'm actually looking for is logical fallacies. And we think about respect a lot. And at open strategy partners, we also don't produce negative copy a lot of the classical logical fallacies, a straw man argument, ad hominem arguments, it's the one true Scotsman fallacy. And we'll link to all of these in the show notes for this episode, they all are effectively dishonest rhetorical techniques to try and trick an audience into thinking something or misinterpreting data. So so these are, these are clearly things that I don't want to be involved in my take on marketing and communication, is that if you have to resort to FUD, "fear, uncertainty and doubt," I don't think you're doing it right. And I don't think you're doing your clients the best service you could. 

Jeffrey A. McGuire  6:06  
So avoiding logical fallacies honestly kind of boils down to "please be honest." And so as an editor, occasionally, we drop into the role of a fact checker, as you're going through a piece, it's very, very good to check that if you make a claim that you can back that claim up, if you claim something is, whatever it is back that up with evidence, and then evidence can be empirical and data and quote your sources, please, it can be an anecdote, quote, your sources, please make sure that evidence and claims are there. And if you can't back up a claim, it probably shouldn't be there either.

Christine Beuhler  6:43  
As an editor, when I'm using the SPOCK editing code, I think it is a bit easier to apply it because your eyes are fresh to the piece. And so it can be easier to be reading a paragraph and be like, oh, you know, those points did not follow each other. And to flag it for the writer, I think that can be really helpful. Because sometimes that will end up with the writer being like, oh, you know, you're right, I could have connected those more clearly. And the piece will improve as a whole.

Felicity Brand  7:23  
As an editor, I think SPOCK is going to be picked up, not on your first read through, not when you're doing the positivity pass, it's generally going to be picked up on your second or third read through. And that's when you're reading carefully. The writer is taking you on a journey, and you need to accept each step along that path. So if something doesn't feel right, that's when you'll call it out. And since editing is a conversation, I think generally any use of the spot code as an editor is going to be in question format, talking to the author, did you mean this, it looks like you're saying this, therefore that is that what you're going for. And that just allows the writer to double check, you know, add more words, if it's confusing, separate thoughts out, or add add evidence or a quote, to really make your logical progression clear.

Carl Richards  8:19  
Let's explore how you can approach this code as a writer

Jeffrey A. McGuire  8:23  
Talking, talking about the SPOCK code as a writer, I kind of want to hold my hand like this and, and work out a way to use the words Live long and prosper. Something about, you know, marketing and my clients and sustainable. But essentially, as a writer, for me, this is a structural cue, when I am checking the outline and then filling in a whole article, I need to make sure that every thought that starts is then completed. And every claim that I make is followed up by something that shows that to be true or reasonable and linked with some kind of a proof point. And by the same token, I do have the chance to try and not use cheap rhetorical tricks and sort of keep things straightforward and to the point but honestly, when I'm writing, essentially, I'm looking for closure and each of the points that I make, and then at some level also that things follow logically. And all of that goes to being honest and straightforward with with my potential reader.

Christine Beuhler  9:23  
I'd say I use SPOCK at pretty much all stages of drafting a piece of writing, you know, in the outline stage, just because I'm going to be thinking of my supporting points and those need to be logical. I definitely use it in the self editing phase, which is generally near the end kind of double checking, making sure that like my points are logical and that they make sense. I do think it is a little more difficult to apply SPOCK as a writer than as an editor, just because when you're writing, you can be really like close to the piece and you're not as objective, it can sometimes be hard to take a step back and see where jumps in logic are happening.

Felicity Brand  10:15  
As a writer, the SPOCK code, hopefully is articulated in the brief, the brief is the planning phase, where you get, you take the time to get your thoughts out, you can arrange them in a logical order. And so then when you come to write the piece, your higher level points are already arranged logically, I find as a writer that the more granular logic at the sentence level naturally flows. As a writer, take time to build your logical foundation. If you skip ahead, to make your point without first establishing how you got there, you're at risk of neglecting SPOCK. So it's really tempting to use generalizations, but don't do that because you'll lose your reader.

Carl Richards  10:59  
Now this writing code is important to readers for many different reasons.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  11:04  
SPOCK, these logical, avoiding logical fallacies, right? Avoiding rhetorically dishonest gestures, comes down to a point that really came from home for me in Francis faiz, I think first TED Talk. And Francis phi is a Harvard Business School professor. And she talks about trust, and trust as a thing that can be built and rebuilt even. And her definition of of trust is that it's essentially a triangle between logic and empathy and authenticity. And it's so close to some of the things that we think about OSP every day that and it really fit into my personal coming, thinking of my my framework about how I think about communication. 

Jeffrey A. McGuire  11:45  
So Francis Fey says, if you're not logical, if you're just talking nonsense to someone, how can they possibly trust you, you cannot build up trust with someone if you're not presenting your clear, rational logical thoughts them and because her definition, then says you have to be your authentic self to build trust, and you have to use empathy to put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they need it honestly, it's, this model fits perfectly within our model of empathy, clarity, trust, and really, really reinforces what we do. And I have a I have a cool diagram, actually, that I should put into, put into a blog post about this. Thanks for asking

Christine Beuhler  12:25  
The SPOCK editing code matters to readers because, you know, we want them to be able to follow along pretty easily with the points we're making. You know, we don't want reader to get confused and you know, abandon the writing halfway through, it's really to everyone's best advantage to ensure that a piece is logical

Felicity Brand  12:54  
As a reader, SPOCK, and clearly connected. logical thoughts are important, because your time is precious. So as a reader, if you come to a piece, and it is all over the place, you take yourself out of it. And you'll start thinking, are these thoughts connected? Is this a puff piece? What are all these generalizations? And if you as the writer, have you used a generalization that your reader is not on board with? You've lost them?

Christine Beuhler  13:23  
I've learned to be better about SPOCK since you know starting to join the team at OSP. I think Felicity is really good at it.

Carl Richards  13:33  
You don't have to be a diehard Trekkie, like many of us are here at OSP or give the Vulcan salute to use the SPOCK code. However, as Spock might say, "Live long and prosper." How do you use SPOCK in your writing? Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com.

Carl Richards  14:14  
This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com. Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gamal for our high energy maple syrup flavor theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. 

Carl Richards  14:48  
Thank YOU for listening and subscribing. 

Carl Richards  14:51  
About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate All Things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication, connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, I'm Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  16:38  
And speaking of SPOCK, the best blog post that you could ever write grabs them in the Vulcan nerve pinch and they pass out because they're so impressed by what you wrote. No, anybody? Bueller?

Felicity Brand  16:58  
The only other thing I would say is live long and prosper. I don't know how to do that long and prosper

Carl Richards  17:17  
Oh, you're still here. I'm Carl from OSP that's it. Oh, one more thing. Live long and prosper. Huh?


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