Arts & Entertainment, Writing


Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 10:02 min

Using a New Yorker article he wrote about a company testing out a new drug, Malcolm demonstrates how to employ jargon to hook your readers.

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Topics include: Jargon


Jargon is the-- the best sense of that word are the words and phrases that people inside a world use to describe complicated notions. There-- it's a form of shorthand. It allows them to communicate more effectively. And so it's a very useful exercise to find bits of jargon and explain them to your audience, to give your audience a window of how someone inside that expert world thinks. So if you're a writer and you're trying to represent a world-- a different world to your audience, the kind of jargon that is used to render complicated arguments more simply is incredibly useful to you. You should use that jargon. The kind of jargon that is just simply people's attempt to keep the world and to be pretentious and to make them sound like they're more expert than they are is the kind you should avoid. So let me give you an example. I was once writing an article about a guy-- a company that was testing a new drug for cancer, for melanoma, and in the world of drug testing, there is something called a Kaplan-Meier curve. And Kaplan-Meier curve is a very simple thing. It's two lines on a graph. The first line is people with this disease-- so if we start with 100 people who have this disease and we simply chart their survival rate over time. So on day one there's 100, they're all alive, on-- week one. On week two, 98 are still alive. Week three, 90 are still alive. Week 50, two are still alive. Right? That's a graph like that. And then on top of that graph, you graph the survival rates of people who are taking your drug. And if the two lines are exactly the same, your drug doesn't work. It's not changing the survival rate of people. If the two lines converge, something's happening. If your line-- if you're testing a new drug and your line dips below the original line, it means your drug is killing people. If it's above your line, it means your drug is saving-- is extending people's lives. Right? So in the world of drug testing, they talk about Kaplan-Meier curves and was your Kaplan-Meier curve positive, negative, or neutral? When you submit a drug application to the FDA, you submit, in some cases, millions of pages of documents, but all everyone cares about is the Kaplan-Meier curve, which is one chart with two lines on it. Right? And when they give their big fancy meeting, they'll talk for hours and hours and hours, and then they will put up on the slide, on the PowerPoint, the Kaplan-Meier, and that's all people are-- they're just waiting for the Kaplan-Meier. Wait, wait, wait. Hours, hours, hours. And then finally-- and they'll say-- and it's a big suspense thing, and they'll build up and build up and build up and build up, and then they'll say-- they'll hit the button, they'll go, and this is the Kaplan-Meier. And everyone goes, oh my god. And it's either, oh no, or, eh, or, oh my god. There's a famous story of a drug for breast cancer-- one of the best drugs for breast cancer that we ever had, and it was a drug...

About the Instructor

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

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Malcolm Gladwell

In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.

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