In a recent post, marketing guru and prolific blogger Seth Godin wrote:
Don’t let the words get in the way. If you’re writing online, forget everything you were tortured by in high school English class. You’re just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading. So just say it.”
My take: This is terrible advice. Extremely terrible advice.
If you’re blogging or commenting on blogs (which I assume Godin is referring to when he says “writing online”), then you are not “just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading.”
There are many verbs that describe what you might be trying to do: Inform, educate, entertain, motivate, influence, persuade, etc. Your blog post might simply tell people about something you saw or read. That’s inform. Personally, I’m very aware that about 80% of my blog posts fall in the influence/persuade camp, while 20% or so fall in the entertain bucket.
But here’s the important point: For you to to achieve your writing objective, you must be understood. And if you don’t choose your words carefully, and arrange them in the best way, then you might not be understood.
The English language is challenging. Ask anybody who learns English as a second language, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to pick up, because of all the double meanings, homonyms, slang terms, etc.
When you write (online or offline), you can’t convey through facial and tonal cues the nuances you’re trying to convey (which is why I will often explicitly mention that I’m joking about something, so no one will get the wrong idea).
Not only should you not forget what you learned in HS English class (or whatever language you took in HS), you should go back and read through a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which you may very well have covered in your HS English class. It is, by far, the best guide on how to write.
Bottom line: For your sake and the sake of your readers, when writing, DO let the words get in the way. Read through it through the eyes of your audience (to the best you can), and ask yourself, will they really understand what I’m trying to get across? Am I using any words that might be misconstrued? Is there a simpler and more concise way to say what I just said?
Mark Twain once wrote in a letter, “sorry for the length of this letter, if I had more time, I could have made it shorter.” Or something like that.
In other words, DON’T just say it. Think about it.
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