Summary of ” What is an Idea” Wayne C. Booth’s “What is an Idea?” (The Canadian Practical Stylist with Readings, 1998) defines what an idea is, what it is not and emphasizes the importance of clearly expressing ideas through writing. Firstly, to be considered an idea in a serious conversation, three criteria must be met. An idea has roots; it stems from other ideas. Booth uses the analogy of a family, both exist among a network of ancestors preceding, following and supporting them. An idea also has offspring; other ideas are generated from it. As well, an idea requires discussion and interpretation; it does not have a fixed meaning. Secondly, mental images and opinions or notions are not ideas.
” I have an idea let’s go get a hamburger”(1) is simply a mental picture, not an idea as it claims to be. Opinions are “emotion-charged generalizations, unsupported by evidence or argument”(7). Furthermore, writing gives us the opportunity to clarify our thoughts and mold opinions into ideas. Booth mocks inexperienced writers, ” I know what I want to say; I just can’t find the words for it” (11). Writers have the words; it’s the thoughts that are unclear. Knowing what defines an idea and clarity of ideas in writing will make a successful writer. As Booth puts it “Not everyone who has powerful ideas is a great writer, but it is impossible to achieve effectiveness, much less greatness without them.”