How to write right? I put that question to her. She is a wiser, older writer, who never misses an opportunity to tell me between the two of us she is always “righter”.
“In what you do, what is right writing is what your client says is right,” she banged her fist on her palm, as was her habit if there was no table within reach.
As Messrs. Wren, Martin and Roget had played a major role in shaping two of my three R’s, it was not easy to accept her assertion. Yet, she did have a point.
Long ago, when covid would have probably been highlighted as a spelling mistake, I was surprised by a call from Hong Kong. That was my first overseas client happy to have me WFH (another spelling glitch then).
We worked happily for about two years. One day, he abruptly told me the boss was not happy with my writing. “Too direct, almost impolite.”
Soon, they moved on and he (now a friend working elsewhere) revealed that the boss had changed—the American was replaced by someone from the UK. Was it just a matter of the difference in nationality? Could we have solved it simply by UK-ing US English? Apparently, there was a change in temperament too.
Conclusion: You may spend hours sharpening it, but a change in nationality and personality can snap the lead, just like that!
Now I am quite used to both extremes.
“Your writing is too simple. Can we have some strong words?”
“Your writing is too complex. Please simplify.”
I simply comply. When writing is your work, write what works.
A new book, Writing for Busy Readers, reviews The Economist, has very simple advice: cut unnecessary words, stick to “bedrock vocabulary” and follow simple syntax. The book goes on to give proof of the preaching.
Simply deleting half of the paragraphs in a fundraising email increased donations by 16%. Reducing the words from 127 to 49 in an emailed survey increased the response rate from 2.7% to 4.8%. Public companies that used long sentences and complicated words to state their ethics code were seen as less moral and trustworthy. Phew!
Short and sweet it has to be then? What happens when the first-level contact at the client’s throws your content on the scale to weigh the “content”? How many are fortunate enough to deal directly with the would-be author to understand them and their authentic tone well enough to make the draft a “good to go” at the very first instance? Of course, without interference from chatty intermediaries and GPT!
Short, easy words definitely have their place but not for all. This “sesquipedalian” Member of Parliament (MP) is known less for what he says than for the words he uses to say that, whether you understand or not be damned. That’s his brand, what has made him famous.
An old friend, an ageless writer and veteran communications professional, had the opportunity to compliment this MP after the latter had addressed a gathering. “Thank you for elevating this discussion to crepuscular altitude and suffusing it with intellect of refulgent luminosity.”
Incidentally, this friend’s first book will be published soon. When he told me about it, I suggested he should title it Condiment-laden Camellia sinensis decoction for the neshama. He refused.
Must be the influence of the new wave. He has given it a title all too simple and short: Masala chai for the soul.
In favour of simple writing (economist.com)
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