Clear Writing Strikes a Nerve!

Wow! Eleven comments! My last post on clear writing seems to have struck a nerve. I will write more on it (well, I hope!), but first I wanted to share something that an actual member of the millennial generation said about the topic (in addition to the millennials that posted comments). Her father had forwarded her my post, and this is what she (a college student) had to say:

This was really interesting – I’m glad you sent it to me! I happen to think that both points of view have valid arguments.

When I consider text messaging and instant messaging, I believe the blogger is exactly correct. They are not meant to produce any great level of literary acclaim but simply facilitate communication. I guess if I were to think about it in comparison to spoken language, I would relate it to slang. Shortening is just plain easier and so fully understood that there is usually nothing lost in translation. However, I also refuse to resort to the fullest degree of ‘text speak’ (therefore if you’ve noticed you’ll never receive anything like ‘hI gr8t txt  ttmi ttly 4sur luvs’ from me, or from anyone I talk to using text) As inelegant as it appears, somehow I still manage to know everything about everyone I’ve ever met and where my friends are at all times right?

That being said, I find it interesting how this sort of talking, just like vernacular, infiltrates  writing. There are some absolutely horrible writers running around blogging away, posting myspace bulletins and spamming the crap out of my e-mail, which is annoying. However, I’ve found some completely incredible poetry and even blogs themselves that have incorporated this kind of talking in an artistic way. Sometimes the writer comes off as an illiterate fool, but there are others who know how to use this parred down language in powerful ways.

Think of romantic writing, Faulkner, the manual for my iPod. ‘Well written’, but man are they wordy. So, maybe my generation is one of purists 😀 and just want to get ‘it out there’.

I absolutely agree with the blogger’s last point. I think that giving people computer access and yes, cell phones, has altered who actually writes immensely. I’ve had classes with people who probably couldn’t tell you a single alternate word for ‘great’ but who faithfully post blogs, write comments and participate in online discussions on a daily basis. Maybe writing has just become less elitist? Sure, as soon as you provide the tool to ‘average joe’ with no academic goals, poetic aspirations or work mandated assignments, some crap gets written. A lot, actually. A lot of really truly badly written things, everywhere you look.

But come on, what is quality writing, anyway? I’ve written my share of exquisitely worded, grammatically flawless, academically relevant trite BS. Gold star. But get the kid who never raises her hand in class to write about her day (using bad verb conjugation) and really say something about her life? That is really really cool.

I personally think of ‘good writing’ as a tool for making writing powerful. It just makes sense to me to write well so that my message has maximum impact and is understandable to my audience. But it’s still fundamentally about the idea behind it, or it’s just drivel 🙂

So, there it is. Now I have to go write a paper 😀

Ttly luv ya (hahahahaha)


  1. 30.01.2008 at 9:01 pm

    The bad thing about blogs is that I often find myself missing great comments because I read the blogs in a reader and forget to check back for comments. So thanks for this post that points to the interesting discussion on your earlier one. And also, thanks for the great comment from the insightful college student — who is a perfect example of one of these younguns who definitely knows how to write!
    One of the great truisms of grammar has been that the rules of grammar can be freely broken — in a readable and engaging way — once you actually understand those rules to begin with. Sentence fragments are fine. And there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with “and”, and run-on sentences can be very effective, but obviously only if you know enough about the “rules” to do it only some of the time, not all of the time, and do it in a stylistic way that supports clear and consistent communication.
    Anyhoo — my point — actually, it’s more of a question — I wonder if the folks who are best at communicating with “textese” (or whatever) are those who have also already grasped the rules of a more mundane communication?
    Let’s face it, those annoying emoticons aside, some of the shorthand has already taken hold of our collective conscience. LOL is so widely accepted that, frankly, I’m not sure I see anything wrong with including it in business communications (perhaps not the HBR).
    (A good friend of mine once admitted to me that she completely mortified herself when she met a guy in a bar she really liked and when he said something funny, she replied, aloud, “LOL.” And then felt completely embarrassed. I’m not sure down the road very long that it will be considered very embarrassing, as LOL doesn’t really mean “laughing out loud” — it means more, “I acknowledge you just made an amusing remark” — and I would not be surprised to one day regularly hear it said as often as it is typed.)

  2. 31.01.2008 at 1:14 pm

    Jamie: Good discussion. The college student whom you quoted and Kevin in his comments above, frame this issue well. The point of writing is to communicate an idea or concept. Language is just a tool to express those concepts. As long as everyone is in agreement over its meaning and usage—whether in text books, novels, petroglyphs, or text messaging—then it works. It’s dynamic. Slang enters the mainstream and worn-out terms fall out of use.
    As several commenter’s said in the previous post, the problem comes in when folks equate “good writing” with stilted and long-winded prose and suggest throwing out the “rules.” Even text messaging has conventions. How about simply going for communication that’s clear, concise, and effective—appropriate to the communication method?

  3. 09.12.2008 at 2:12 am

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