Writing or communications

Auguste Toulmouche (1829–1890)We editors are a cranky bunch, always hacking away at misspellings and grammatical errors. Our rules, I’m sure, seem arcane to many.

As I’ve often pointed out, excellent written English is so far from the norm online that proper use of the language would seem to have lost all value amongst us.

There’s a core problem with ignoring good language, though: when ‘anything goes’ in language, communication is compromised. We could go so far as to say, the more tightly disciplined the language, the more powerful the communication. So when you start accepting any number of variations on the rules, you must also accept that you will not communicate as well.

Imagine saying something to another person and you really really care that the other person hears and understands. Do you speak differently than when you are not so intent on communicating something?

When representing your business in public, for marketing or any other reason, how much do you care that your audience (those who ‘audit,’ who hear) really gets your message the exact way you intend it? If you care much at all, then use of language is your central concern.

Communicating well is far different from merely spelling correctly or using complete sentences. It’s so much more than your spell-or-grammar-checker can catch that it belongs in another world entirely. The nitty gritty rules of writing are foundational, to be sure. But communicating well is where the pedal hits the metal.

Please consider these samples. Though well-meaning, each of these misses the mark the writer intended, and ends up instead conveying only a lack of careful proofreading or, it must be admitted, a lack of intelligence.

“With a Methodist mother and a Southern Baptist father, Clinton’s fiancé, who is Jewish, will invite another religious perspective into the family.”
What’s wrong: Clinton’s fiancé (subject of the sentence) is Jewish; it is Clinton who has the Methodist mother and Southern Baptist father.
Said properly: Clinton has a Methodist mother and a Southern Baptist father.  Her fiancé, who is Jewish, will invite another religious perspective into the family.

” … looking to ameliorate my skills and further my experience in the financial domain.”
What’s wrong: it would be very bad for you if you ameliorated your skills. Best to be sure you can state the definition of a big word before you use it – especially in any branding statement!
Better way to say it: “… looking to build my skills and experience in the financial domain.”

“I love Chocolate and it was just like , no better than most!”
What’s wrong: Was it really no better than most?
Better way to say it: “I love chocolate and it was like – no, better than most!”

” … he attributes Kurlan & Associates as a large part of his success.”
What’s wrong: ‘Attributes … as’ doesn’t make sense.
Better way to say it: ” … he attributes a large part of his success to Kurlan & Associates.”

“I’m in the business of helping independent professionals maximize their billable hours by handling their administrative support needs.”
What’s wrong: I hope you can see that though we might infer the meaning here, the language tries hard to obscure it.
A better way to say it: “I handle administrative support needs for independent professionals so they can maximize their billable hours.”

Note that in each of these cases, the best use is that which serves the reader’s understanding with most power and precision – and often the most simplicity.

Writing should be used to communicate, if you’re going to publish it. Do it with your reader firmly in mind. Serve his/her interests and nothing else. Create and polish your messages like love letters, because if you are selling anything, that’s what they have to be.

  • Kay Hunkins

    Another great post! Thanks……admiting that I struggle most with the very subject you wrote on!