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Stop Alienating Your Readers--Avoid Writing Bloopers!

By Alf Gordon(13,356)

Posted Thursday, March 27, 2008
View All Blog Posts submitted by Alf Gordon

Remember Gary Larson's cartoon "The Far Side"?  I loved his twist on common everyday occurrences.  One of my all-time favorites is the little boy standing outside the Midvale School for the Gifted, pushing hard on the door to let him in.  His head is down and he's obviously straining.  If he'd lifted his head just a little bit, he'd have seen the sign in the window that says "PULL".  It underscores the fact that just because we put a label on something (or someone) it doesn't make it true.
Which brings me to the concept of communication in general, and written communication in particular.  There are more people than I care to think about who believe they have the Next Great Novel burning inside their hearts.  Or the Next Great News Story.  Or the Next Great Magazine Article.  Maybe even the Next Great Blog.  They know exactly what they want to say.  Unfortunately, when it comes to sharing that idea with the general public, they're woefully inadequate to the task.
I'm not talking about the occasional typo here.  I'm talking about using the wrong word, mixing metaphors, changing tenses between subject and object, even making up words.  If people can't read your writing and understand what you're saying, you might as well not bother putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  People will view your writing mistakes as a reflection on your level of education.  And frankly, nobody wants to listen to an uneducated bumpkin.
Think I'm kidding?  Have you ever LISTENED to one of George W. Bush's speeches?  Check out YouTube and you will find page after page of videos showing Bush's disconnect between his brain and his mouth.  (Where do you think they got the term "Bushism" from?!)  Our current President is a college graduate and yet seems to trip over his tongue on a regular basis.  Whether he realizes it or not, he makes Texans look like hicks.  And that makes folks either not take him seriously, or just stop listening to him altogether.  (If he's got a speech writer putting that crap down on paper, somebody needs to be fired, like, two years ago!)
I'm not saying you have to be a Ph. D. to write well--and having a Ph. D. doesn't guarantee you can write well!  But you have to be able to communicate your message confidently and coherently.  It means you need a good grasp of the English language (if you're writing to an English-speaking audience) and know enough about the rules of spelling and grammar to state your case so the majority of your reading audience can understand you.
Some of the biggest writing flubs I've ever seen were due to a wrong choice of word.  Homonyms are particulary dastardly.  You know, those words that are spelled differently and have different meanings but are pronounced the same?  Like using "to" instead of "too", "there" instead of "their", "right" instead of "write".  Sounds the same, means something totally different.  That'll reduce your IQ a few points in the minds of your readership.
Just because a word sounds cool in a sentence doesn't mean it's the right word.  If you don't know what a word means, LOOK IT UP before you include it in a sentence.  Don't have a dictionary on hand?  That's where dictionary.com comes in handy.  Type in your word and find the definition.  And if you keep repeating the same word over and over in your essay, check out thesaurus.com for synonyms.  Variety is the spice of life, and it applies to writing as well.
"A stitch in time is worth two in the bush."  "The love of money doesn't grow on trees."  What the heck were these people thinking?  They weren't, because they've mixed their metaphors.  Start with one popular phrase, tack on the ending to another, and you have a mishmash sentence that would confuse Don McLean.  It's confusing, and further promotes the idea that you don't know what you're talking about.
Some people think that taking a more casual approach to writing makes them more appealing.  It can, if you know how to write well.  But if you don't, then writing one incredibly lengthy sentence is only going to confuse the reader, who, by the time he or she reaches the end of the statement, most likely will have forgotten, or at least have only a vague memory of, the original theme and purpose of the statement, which obviously reflects poorly on you, the writer, since your audience is going to assume you're knowledgeable enough about your topic only if you are capable of properly conveying that topical information in a manner easy for the reader to understand.  (See what I mean?)  Short sentences, brief and to the point, work much more effectively.  It also reduces your punctuation (another red flag when too much is used in a document).  And just because you know a big word, don't assume your audience does.  You might need to clarify some definitions, particularly if you're dealing in a topic that's not widely known, like, say, nuclearbiochemistry.  (Oh, and don't make up words like "nuclearbiochemistry" either.)
So if you're writing for fun, or for yourself, do whatever you want.  If you have an audience and have a message to share, do your homework.  Choose the correct word.  Use the right tense of verb.  DON'T misspell words.  DON'T make words up!  If you want readership, avoid those little mistakes that make it look like you're not as smart as you think you are.  It will take a little more work, but you'll be happier with the final result, and in the long run, will have more people willing to read what you have to say.  And isn't that the whole reason you wanted to start writing in the first place?

This Blog Post has been read 241 times.
Posted to ProBlogs.com on Thursday, March 27, 2008
View other posts by Alf Gordon

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