Apr 7, 2009

What's your excuse for writing badly?

Seth Godin (I began reading the world's most famous marketer thanks to a tribal named Harish) wrote a very interesting post titled Why aren't you (really) good at graphic design?. He argued that even non-designers could become reasonably good at designs because both the tools and the know-how are available at no charge and one could, with a modicum of effort, be good enough to put together things like better powerpoints and webpages (or quizzes, says this blogger).

I'd like to ask a far more basic question to people that I encounter: Why are you so awful at writing? This isn't a call for people to write like Wodehouse or Rushdie, but a plea for decent, everyday writing that helps communicate your thoughts without distraction. That's all. And this isn't very hard to achieve.

And this isn't the rant of a language-Nazi who wants to impose pedantic norms. Over-flowery text will be as annoying as 'disemvoweled' utterances. Language evolves and good for it. But when you write 'dat is gud- u r abslutly rite. i appreciate ur thot' in a public forum such as an email to many or a blog post, it tells me that you're too sloppy to make sure your message will be received with the optimal attention. That kind of text has its place and time. Casualness is not a substitute for informality.

If you're reading this, then you'd be a writer: of emails, of status reports, of tweets, of scraps. Do you not know that we judge you by the word-trail you leave behind? How can you not want to be better at something you do each hour?

Largely, I attribute this to an ignorance or even willful blindness to the possibilities of elegance. (This from a person who is genetically awkward.) What prevents people from attempting to be concise yet meaningful, sharp yet elegant, rapid yet thoughtful? What's your excuse then?

Godin points to a Squidoo page of resources for design. Writing is so well-studied that I wouldn't know where to begin - so the easiest reference for anyone to have a look at would be Strunk and White's little book. That's pretty much all that's needed, one thinks.


ww.ssanand.blogspot.com said...

Hurray, lowlives of the world unite--Amit Chaudhari is the newage writing guru--It was raining heavily, drops were falling down etc.
Genetically awkward ? Hmmm.
And err, who reads Godin anyway ?

Jatin Bharadia said...

Some of the messages are teasingly close to spam. I think eventually we will meet the machines half way and speak the same language. :D

A probable reason for Arnold speaking so less in the movie was a Skynet fixed spam filter.

AloneandAloof said...

That's a good post and being a technical writer I really appreciate it!

'The Elements of Style' by Strunk and White is referred as a textbook by Technical Writers, the first you are supposed to read when you start your writing career.

I'd also suggest the Wren and Martin grammar book that all of us must've used in school days. A lot of school kids I know these days are too scared to even open it (2 lng 2 read, I guess) but it's the most comprehensive grammar book I ever read.


Ramanand said...

Anand (or your blog): Must confess I seem to read Godin!

Jatin: he he. Good we didn't hear: "I'll be back. Don't you feel inadequate."

Priti: thanks for your comment. Must confess I didn't quite use the Red Book much when I was growing up, but ironically, it now sits on my work desk because I need to use it sometimes in my work.

Harish Kumar said...

JR - Reading Godin or being logical/sensible is probably tantamount to blasphemy for someone working the HR dept. in a large corporation - a bank for god's sake.

Harish Kumar said...

*working in the...

Karthik Shekhar said...

Great post! Hits the nail on the head.

Ramanand said...

Thanks Karthik.