Don’t panic! You CAN learn to write better.
You don’t have to revisit high-school or college composition courses, and you don’t have to slog through hard-to-understand and harder-to-memorize rules about past-participial possessive pronouns. Writing, Clear and Simple is here to help.
But why worry about writing?
Even in the age of multimedia, with images and sounds being used to capture our attention and imagination, words—written or spoken— are still the most powerful means of communication that we have. Images, animation, colors, music, and sound certainly have the ability to capture our attention and engage us on an emotional level, but when we need to persuade, to instruct, to edify, to exhort, to argue, we use words. We remember the powerful words of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill, because the words they wrote and spoke are due a great measure of the credit for their accomplishments.
Most people take words for granted, however. Anybody can string a series of words together, and many people do. Unfortunately, few do it well.
It’s an epidemic!
Daily we see and hear examples of mangled grammar and incoherent structure, with a good measure of misapplied punctuation to further muddy the waters. Couple this with the flood of pompous words, bloated rhetoric, bureaucratic bloviation, and just flat-out BS and the result is an incomprehensible babble. Of words, there is no shortage, but understanding is in short supply. We read and hear the words, but we’re not getting the message. Like Marlin in Finding Nemo, we find ourselves saying in frustration “It’s like he’s trying to speak to me, I know it!”
Bad writing is expensive
Bad writing is more than an inconvenience or an annoyance. It costs each of us in some way, and the sum can be staggering when you begin to add them up. The National Commission on Writing conducted a survey of Fortune 500 companies and found that U.S. businesses spend as much as $3.1 billion annually helping employees overcome writing deficiencies.
The commission found much the same situation in the public sector. State governments spend almost a quarter of a billion dollars each year for writing training.
But those figures only scratch the surface of the real costs. “It’s impossible to calculate the ultimate cost of lost productivity because people have to read things two and three times,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, vice chairman of the National Governors Association.
Want an example of the penalties you could experience? The website legalwritingpro.com tells the story of a Philadelphia lawyer who won a civil-rights case for his client, but was admonished by the judge because his writing was “vague, ambiguous, unintelligible, verbose and repetitive.” The presiding judge said these flaws forced the court and defense counsel “to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering the arguments,” so he reduced the lawyer’s attorney fee award by $31,500. If the judge’s comments didn’t leave a mark, the loss of $31,500 did.
“Writing ability could be your ticket in … or it could be your ticket out.”
Another cost that’s impossible to calculate is the cost of lost ideas. “I see that all the time in writing and political speaking,” Huckabee said. “There are some really bright people who can’t communicate and as a result their ideas probably aren’t given the attention they deserve.”
And there is the individual cost of lost opportunity for employment or advancement. Bob Kerrey, chairman of the commission and president of New School University in New York said “In a nutshell, the survey confirms our conviction that individual opportunity in the United States depends critically on the ability to present one’s thoughts coherently, cogently, and persuasively on paper.”
One survey participant put it this way: “In most cases, writing ability could be your ticket in … or it could be your ticket out.”
Start learning today!
The ability to use words well, to communicate with clarity and force, is rare, but it is a skill that anyone can learn. If you want to develop your ability with words, to learn to use them clearly and concisely, with power and precision, then this website is for you. The focus will be primarily on writing, but the things you learn will carry over to speaking as well, whether it’s conversations around the water cooler or formal presentations before large audiences.
The rewards you’ll reap by improving your writing ability include increasing your employability, productivity, and even your promotability, but they go far beyond that. Laurie E. Rozakis, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, says that people who use words well “tend to succeed in whatever they attempt, because they have the tools to communicate, persuade, and inform effectively, no matter what the message.”
Jump over to the Notebook and take a look around. It’s going to be a fun ride.
About the author
Who is this guy telling you how to write better? I’m Roy Jacobsen and I have been writing and editing for more than 26 years in a variety of fields, including health food, academia, and most recently, software development. I’m currently a freelance writer and editor.
I’m a word lover (I like to tell people that the dictionary is my toybox) and am the type who makes editorial comments about the menus at restaurants. Did I mention that I have a long-suffering wife?
If you need some help with a writing project, or if you’d like me to coach you in your writing, drop me a line. You can e-mail me, or send snail-mail to:
Writing, Clear and Simple
1043 10th Street North
Fargo, ND 58102