Tag Archives: clear thinking

Here’s to Clear Writing

download.jpg   When I taught business writing classes in the corporate world, I used this example from George Orwell (a phenomenal writer whose essays I highly recommend) to illustrate how overwrought language does not impress but does confuse:

 “Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

I see you scratching your head. Did you read it more than once, hoping to discern a clue? What does this paragraph even mean? I’ll bet you can define all the words yet still cannot explain the meaning of them when laid side by side. So many multi-syllable words—saying what?

Now try this:

“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

You are likely familiar with this excerpt from Ecclesiastes, whether you are religious or not. It is saying. “The race is not to the swift” has become a staple of advice in the English language. Although you read an archaic word (“happeneth”), you still understood it.

That unwieldy first paragraph was Orwell deliberately rewriting the portion from Ecclesiastes by using the most convoluted, confusing, off-putting language possible. Just giving a cursory look at both paragraphs, who would choose to read the first one?

The lesson is simple and clear: Rid your writing of pomposity. Use clear, straightforward words. Writing simply will not cause others to assume you are simple-minded; instead, they will look forward to reading what you write. Won’t that be satisfying?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Why I Post Writing Tips

English: Education.

English: Education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been sending out writing tips for about 15 years. They end up going to thousands of people, primarily people who work in companies for which I gave business writing seminars. Do you ever stop to wonder why I send these tips out, tips that I now also post in my blog?  Because I want you to succeed.I cannot overemphasize how important it is to be able to write well.  By “well,” I mean writing clearly, concisely, precisely and confidently:

• Writing so your readers don’t have to guess what you mean

• Writing that invites your readers in

 • Writing that makes your readers feel good when they see they have received an email, letter or report from     you

• Writing your readers won’t delete before they even read it when they see who wrote the document

If you are looking for a job, your résumé is your calling card. Do you have any idea how many résumés are deleted at the first typo?  If a résumé has no typos but is badly organized or if it looks sloppy on the page, you can kiss that job goodbye.

If you have a job, your writing skills are no doubt part of your performance evaluation. Who will be promoted, a person whose writing is careless, ungrammatical, disorganized? Or will it be the person whose writing possesses the opposite of those characteristics? (Obviously, those are rhetorical questions.)

 

What will help your writing?  My tips can’t do it all. How I wish it were that simple. I do suggest you make a folder and save them for future reference, however.

The best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read, read, read. Find an author you like—it doesn’t have to be a so-called highbrow author—and just make yourself read. If you like a TV series, get the book it was based on. You’ll find it in iTunes or Amazon.

One other tip I used with my college students is a one-month experiment: write one page a day for 30 days. If you start on the 20th of the month, do this every day until the next 20th rolls around. Just write those single pages on any topic you want (each page can be a different subject), print them out, and put them in the order of oldest first.  After doing this for a month, start with the first page you wrote and read through them.  Finally, read the first page and then the most recent one you wrote. I guarantee you will see improvement you didn’t think would be possible.  No one read these for you. No one critiqued them. The improvement came from the simple act of writing.  Magic!

If you do this, I would love to hear from you at the end of your month. Remember, just one page a day. That is only about 250 words. No biggie!

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Now Translate This!

Here is another jawdropper from the corporate world:

“…a strategic framework to catalyze positive and consistent operational improvements…”

What do you suppose that means?  Here is my guess—but it only a guess:

“…a plan to bring about positive, regular improvement [in some area, which is not defined but should be].”

Have you noticed these days how almost everything is defined as being “strategic”?  Apparently, if it’s not “strategic” it’s not important (in the corporate mind).  The most common use is a “strategic plan.”  Don’t all plans require strategy? You think through what is needed to solve a problem and then implement it. How can you plan without using strategy?

Too often writers don’t think about the words they want. Because we are bombarded with verbiage (that word carries a negative connotation) every day, we have these chunks of bullshit floating over our heads. It is so easy to write by just reaching up and grabbing a chunk that sounds oh-so-impressive and may hint at the meaning we want, and then shoving it into our own writing.  The result is vague, upholstered language that makes the reader guess at what we really mean.

It’s worth picturing your reader sitting across your desk while you explain in plain English what you really mean. It won’t take much time, and you will eliminate guesswork and errors caused by misinterpretation.

Off my soapbox I go.

Wikimedia Strategic Plan cover image

Wikimedia Strategic Plan cover image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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April 15, 2013 · 7:42 PM