Stop Writing to Impress!
“Never use a long word where a short one will do” George Orwell
On the spectrum of bad writing, there is clunky prose with no structure that struggles to communicate an idea clearly. Writing like this makes our eyes glaze over as we regret sacrificing some of our precious time to read or review something, and in the process, losing moments we will never get back. It can be very painful.
Very close to this category is, in my opinion, a worse kind — the kind of writing that “tries too hard”. It is often dressed up in floral but pointless language, overloaded with jargon and lots of really long words. This crime is often committed under the guise of “business/professional writing”, with the aim of impressing our audience.
This has to stop!
First is that this bloated prose is difficult to understand. In a world where attention is an increasingly scarce resource, this is highly inefficient. Wasteful! Small wonder people struggle to read!
Clear, logical writing in the workplace is gradually being elevated to a super-power, mostly because many of us are so bad at it. Those who happen to be decent come off as shining stars.
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise, you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite” C.S. Lewis
Some of the finest writers in history agree on the need for using simple, short words and sentences to communicate. These men and women also happen to be some of the most intelligent people. So, it’s a bit ironic to see people ignoring their advice trying to appear clever.
In my experience, complicated writing is usually a sign of poor thinking (or low self-esteem). In the absence of logic, we settle for needless adjectives and surplus paragraphs.
To fix this, we simply need to follow some very basic principles:
1. Make an outline
2. Be sure that your “story” flows
3. Write it in the simplest language possible
4. Go back to the top and cut out the “fat”
I must admit, this is easier said than done, but we all have a responsibility to try. For as long as writing remains a viable means of communication, we must all strive to do better. The robots (read chatGPT) are here already. Will this bring us relief? Or should we be worried that one of the most prized (and uniquely human) skills in the history of mankind is about to vanish?
The jury is still out. Until it is decided, please write to communicate, not impress.