In our society, the study of language is the domain of poets, novelists, and literary critics. Just look at the value of a college degree in English versus one in computer science or accounting. But is this an accurate assessment of value?
Language is the primary conductor between you and your audience. Ineffective language weakens and distorts ideas. If you want to be understood and your ideas to spread, you must learn to write good English.
But, what is ‘Good English’? Good English is that which is readable by most people. It has several nuances – let us discuss a few!
- ‘We have no information at this time, but we’ll make a formal announcement the moment we do’ can be briefly expressed as ‘ We don’t know yet, but will tell you when we do’.
- A ‘manually operated, personalised, recreational, eco-tool’ can also be called a ‘spade’.
But unfortunately verbosity is usually equated with command over the language. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating or experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. That sentence is too simple–there must be something wrong with it!
To improve brevity, simply use George Orwell’s advice
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
If you get criticized for limited word choice, rejoice for being in good company. When Hemingway was criticized by Faulkner, he had replied:
‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use’.
Clarity has two angles –
Frequently confused words:
Some words are frequently confused due to similarity in spelling, rhyme or closeness in meaning. ‘Complementary’ gets written as ‘complimentary’. ‘Liable’ gets used where ‘likely’ would fit better. ‘Anxious’ is used where ‘Eager’ is desirable. More here.
Burden on those with lower standards:
Most writers assume that the reader would share their own standards of English and know the context in which they are writing. This may not always be true. The executive or shop floor person within your own organization may have a much lower standard than your own. And think about the problems of writing in today’s globalized environment.
Compare the following sentences –
1. Reading is hard; writing is harder.
2. Reading is difficult; writing is more difficult than reading.
On first look, the first version appears better written than the second. It not only contains fewer words but fewer words with more than one syllable. Version 1 is brief, plain, direct, even slightly poetic. In contrast, the second is slow, pedestrian, and prosaic. Yet, people who read English as their second language would probably have more trouble with the first than the second. Why?
In the first, better-written version, the key word is hard, a word with several meanings. Here the writer has used it in the sense of ‘difficult’ in a metaphorical way. However, a person learning English is unlikely to know the metaphorical sense of hard as difficult. Nor would the bilingual dictionary such a person consults, list the “difficult” equivalent as the first meaning.
English is the first language of about 400 million people, but there are more than another billion people who speak it as a second language. This makes it necessary for global writers to use a style that reduces the burden of understanding on others.
Errors of grammar increase the likelihood of confusion and also make the writer look uneducated to others. They also suggest that the person in not detail oriented. CEO of a CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, has gone so far as to say that he won’t hire anyone with poor grammar. He says, ‘Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they’re detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it’.
Form & Usage
Along with grammar, bad form and usage also make a writer appear uneducated to others. Writing ‘I find it easy to pull up with you’ instead of ‘I find it easy to pull along with you’ will not endear you to your superiors.
Flexibility through variety
Brief, clear, correct and good form & usage is a winning combination, but even this is not the final or only criterion. Audience analysis has long been a basic principle of effective communication. You would adopt a completely different style of writing altogether when preparing research papers for the scientific or medical community than you would if you were writing the horse racing form guide. Matching writing style to audience is imperative.
So, what can we do about these aspects? I am delighted to present WriteEasy courses from Soluto Learning.
WriteEasy courses provide specific help in respect of all above elements of good English. The courses are completely web-enabled, highly interactive and focused for the needs of their respective segments.
WriteEasy Advanced helps reduce verbosity and improve clarity & flow whereas WriteEasy Essentials helps in correcting grammar and usage. Differences between various courses are here.
Other details, including a free Intro course, are at www.solutolearning.com.