Scrabble seems such a straightforward game on the face of it, doesn’t it? Get your letters on the board as quick as you can. A bit like a crossword, except you can make up the words yourself.

But Mr. Butts must have realized that a game as simple as that wouldn’t create the opportunities to grow and develop skill that an enduring product requires. (Let’s not discuss the merits of Mousetrap here – who knows why it’s still around.)

Experienced Scrabble players know that it’s not the words themselves that will win the game – how many letters they have managed to rid themselves of – but the compound interest provided by existing words on the board, and by the bonus spots that double and triple otherwise mediocre scores.

In this respect, Scrabble provides a model for all us aspiring writers and communicators. We approach a topic with a bagful of ideas that we need to mesh as productively as possible with existing published information. All communication is subject to the assumptions around its medium and by other past and current work with which readers will be familiar. This is an opportunity that we can choose to ignore, or to exploit.

There may be a few hot buttons that we can hit – the triple-word scores that will add extra interest; there are also explicit and implicit references we can make to connect to messages that are already out there, and borrow some of their value.

A fresh news site can win by providing stories that complete gaps left by mainstream media, perhaps by offering a new or local angle on national and international events. Choices of form, structure, style and vocabulary can bring to mind a fresh point of view borrowed from an unexpected genre. Writers can exploit the productive effects of intertextual references by engaging with and working against commentary and opinion that their readers are likely to recognize.

For example, framing an otherwise dry comment on writing within the context of a familiar board game might just work for some. That’s one key to winning an audience or a Scrabble game: use the leverage provided by the context you’re working in to add value to your message.

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