Aquinas's Commentary On The Metaphysics

#17 – The Socratic Scribbler: Malachy Walsh on Writing and Saying What You Mean

Online Great Books seminar leader and former advertising executive Malachy Walsh joins the podcast again to discuss everyone’s least favorite school subject — composition. Many people dread writing, either because of grammar, a tenuous grasp of dialect, or simply because they are not sure what they have to say. Malachy has developed a writing course for OGB to help people write fluently and confidently, and, most importantly, with a purpose.


Malachy’s writing education began in Catholic primary school, but was really informed by his experience in advertising. Early in his career he trained as one of the first “account planners” in North America, and faced the challenge of writing coherently about his clients goals and objectives.


In Malachy’s course, students don’t spend much time on writing per se. Instead they spend time learning to better formulate their thoughts using the Socratic method of asking questions. To Malachy, effective writing involves planting a question in the reader’s mind which begs to be answered. Without the question, writing has no purpose. Indeed, Malachy’s method assigns a job to the piece of writing. There are three basic types of “jobs” for writing:

  1. Conveying knowledge or information, answering the questions: who, what, why, where, and how?
  2. Persuasion, or explaining the value of things. Answering the question: what do people currently think, feel, or do, and what do I want them to think, feel, or do?
  3. Ceremonial or evocative, for creating emotional effect. This writing deals with drama and questions of conflict.


Only once these bedrock questions have been established does Malachy move on to more mechanical aspects of writing such as sentence structure, style, and grammar.


Keep an eye out for the launch of Malachy’s Socratic Scribbling course at Online Great Books as well as a forthcoming book!


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