Hello Writing Etc. Subscriber!
My last issue generated a fair amount of feedback. Some eagle eyed readers caught a grammo, others took issue with part of the message. This email summed up the situation very well:
Congratulations on your successful projects.
I usually don’t respond to newsletters, but there are a few things in this one that bother me as teacher and as a writer.
You write, “we spent the next two years unlearning all my academic writing and relearning how to communicate effectively with the average reader, a very oral writing style.”
This makes sense to me, especially after taking a couple of workshops that focus on engaging students in discussion before they write anything.
Then you write, “‘Make the words invisibly carry the message,’ was our mantra. Any time the reader has to pause to wonder, is perplexed, has to look up a word, etc., you’ve just lost their train of thought and you’ve just lost them as a reader.”
As a high school teacher of 34 years, I continue to find the ability of our read complex literature declining. If we continue to stoop to the level of our readers, how can we ethically continue to write. Furthermore, if we don’t challenge our readers to improve their vocabulary and their reading skills, will we become the weakest nation of readers. I understand that a target audience needs to be able to read what we put in front of them, but when we stoop to their level, are we not doing them a disservice? (Note: In my sophomore English class, I have a number of students who don’t seem to have a reading ability better than that of an elementary student. It has been said that “talking baby talk” to an infant stunts their vocabulary, could that not apply to writing at a lower reading level?
And finally you write, “It’s one thing to write an essay, it’s another to REALLY connect it to your reader.”
I agree that a writer needs to connect with the reader, but not to lower ourselves as writers to the level of the reader. For example, I find that some of my students are prolific readers, but when I look at what they are reading, I am appalled at what has “made the cut” with publishers.
What’s a writer to do?
The definitive answer to your question is this: It depends.
If you audience is primarily made up of students interested in your subject, by all means, test their vocabulary.
If your audience consists of people in a specific occupation, use their language, jargon, and write in a way that complements their communication style.
If you write for a more general audience, be aware of the way they communicate and write in a way you can reach them.
I never “dumb down” my message. However, if I have a choice between using a million dollar word versus its more common counterpart, I’ll go with the counterpart every time. I don’t do this because I feel my audience doesn’t possess the intellectual chops to process it, but because I’d rather keep the words invisibly carrying the message.
In the current economic environment, if you want to sell your writing, you need to write easy to read prose. If selling your writing, or if you don’t need to make a living as a writer, you’re very free to write in a more experimental style. It’s totally up to you.
But for bread and butter writing, communication is king and words are tools to carry that message. If they distract from the message, change them.
That’s my take on the subject for now. I’ll be happy to change it as circumstances evolve.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday,
P.S. You don’t have to “dumb down” your writing to make your words invisibly carry your message. This title will help you navigate the thorny situation. We’re talking three volumes of hard core freelance information in one handy download. As always, I appreciate your support for this project.
Writing Etc./Filbert Publishing News – December 15(ish), 2012
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