The lost art of written communication: Part 2

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR

Here we continue with some tips on written communication. You can find Part 1 here.

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It’s all Chinese to me
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Sloppily written communication reflects poorly on the writer. Unfortunately, grammar is poorly taught in schools in this modern age, and students are forced to remedy this later in life. Make no mistake, the elegance and economy of your written word marks you as a person of intelligence and competence. Think about what you want to write, cut out the clutter and get your message across simply and sweetly.

That brings us to the next point:

6. Proof-read your message before sending it out. That means avoid grammatical and spelling errors. The mark of a professional is a well-crafted, brief and clear communication without errors.

Do not write: I wanna get ur answer on this matter like yesterday!

Rather put it this way: I would like your feedback on this as soon as possible.

Former professor of English at Cambridge, F.L. Lucas (1894-1967), had this to say about writing English:

“As the police put it, anything you say may be used as evidence against you. If handwriting reveals character, writing reveals it still more. You cannot fool all your judges all the time. . . . Most style is not honest enough. Easy to say, but hard to practice. A writer may take to long words, as young men to beards – to impress. But long words, like long beards, are often the badge of charlatans. Or a writer may cultivate the obscure, to seem profound. But even carefully muddied puddles are soon fathomed. Or he may cultivate eccentricity, to seem original. But really original people do not have to think about being original–they can no more help it than they can help breathing. They do not need to dye their hair green.”

7. Avoid Redundancies: that is, words that add little or nothing to the message. For example, words such as very, really, nice, so.

Don’t write: He was a very nice man (we managed to get two of them in there – very and nice are meaningless).

Rather say: He was a generous man (if that is what is meant by nice).

Don’t write: He was so generous!

Rather say: He was generous. (And avoid exclamation points. These are used by lazy writers to add emphasis to a phrase when the words should do that). One could write “He was generous to a fault” to add emphasis to his generosity.

Other redundant expressions (drop the words in brackets – these are unnecessary):

Connect (up)

Confer (together)

Massive (in size)

Depreciate (in value)

Enter (in)

Try (your best)

Close (proximity)

8. Avoid Clichés

Clichés are like broken china: they were once shiny and interesting but no longer. They have been over-worked to the point of tedium and generally show a lack of imagination on the part of the user. Come up with a simpler or more interesting way of saying he same thing.

Examples:  

We had a meeting of the minds.

Rather use: We agreed.

Consider your options.

Rather use: Choose.

He put the cart before the horse.

Rather use: He got it the wrong way round.

She took the bull by the horns and confronted her boss.

Rather use: She confronted her boss head on.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you think, it’s what you do that counts.

Rather use: It doesn’t matter what you think, it’s what you do that counts.

9. English versus American spelling

In South Africa, we use English spelling.

So, use:

Organisation, not organization

Realisation, not realization

Colour, not color

Centre, not center

Labour, not labor

Programme, not program

Pyjamas, not pajamas

Aeroplane, not airplane.

If your Word programme is set for American spelling you will get Americanisms throughout your prose. Many people do not understand the difference, to the point where government documents are littered with these errors. At the very least, set your spell check to English or South African English.

In the next instalment, we will cover creative writing. In other words, how to liven up your written communication to leave a lasting and desirable impression in the mind of the reader.

 

Ciaran Ryan

The Writer's Room is a curated by Ciaran Ryan, who has written on South African affairs for Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Financial Mail, Finweek, Noseweek, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, USA Today, Acts Online and Lewrockwell.com, among others. In between he manages a gold mining operation in Ghana, and previously worked in Congo. Most of his time is spent in the lovely city of Joburg.