By Christie Rose Gardner on writing well.
Use your words! In a world of emoticons, emojis, and textspeak, words do still matter. The importance of writing well cannot be overstated. After all, that’s why we have a language full of words of all sizes, etymology, definitions, and applications. Whether speaking or writing, words and how we arrange and use them affects how our audience ‘hears’ us.
How Listeners and Readers Perceive Our Words
As Steven Poole wrote in The Guardian, pronunciations are a function of class and education. Mispronunciations affect how others perceive us. Although pronunciations change over time, the perceptions about people who pronounce words incorrectly don’t.
The same thing goes for how we use words in our writing. Each word has correct and incorrect usages when writing well. In our writing, we need to know those usages and make wise choices. Sometimes we can know the correct use and yet make a conscious decision to go ‘against the grain’. And that’s okay – as long as we do it consciously.
Content Counts, ‘Fluff’ doesn’t
People show more respect for speakers who can get their point across in a clear and concise manner. If they punctuate their speech with um, er, well, and other filler words, then their audience is likely to feel bored, confused, or even irritated.
Writers refer to those filler words as ‘fluff’. Fluff obfuscates the true meaning of the writing and dilutes both its meaning and importance. As professional writers, it’s important that we avoid fluff if we want our writing taken seriously.
According to Exforsys, the basic English vocabulary of approximately 50,000 words is not enough. The vocabulary of college-educated, well-read people approaches the 100,000 mark considered a minimum for a successful, high-paying career.
As they put it: “If you speak only an average level of English, people will think you’re average.” We think the same goes for writing well.
Trust is the basis for all effective communications. If your audience doesn’t trust what you’re saying or writing, then you’re not really communicating with them. In verbal communications, trust builds through nonverbal cues and feedback. Facial expressions and tone of voice help you connect with your audience.
Writers don’t have the luxury of that kind of nonverbal communication. Instead, we have to make sure our words are speaking for us when writing well. They must communicate our meaning clearly, succinctly, and precisely. When we express ourselves clearly with carefully chosen words, we’re building trust with our audience.
Emoting with Words
Since your readers can’t read your facial communications, they depend on your descriptive word choices to understand the emotions behind your words. As Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman explain in this article in Psychology Today,
…unless the writer fills in the blanks with specific emotional words and descriptive speech – storytelling – the reader will experience your writing as being flat, boring, dry, and probably more negative than you intended.
Unless you’re writing something that’s extremely formal, let your words emote for you. Choosing descriptive words will allow you to make that all-important connection with your readers.
Some people use words that emote too much. They fill their every sentence with shockingly offensive language. Perhaps they lack creativity, are thoughtless, or just lazy. Or maybe they do it for lack of a more extensive and descriptive vocabulary. Even if they have the knowledge of more words than they demonstrate, that knowledge is useless if they don’t apply it.
Since reading takes more effort than listening, readers expect more out of writers than they do casual speakers. Punctuate every sentence with profanity, use words improperly, or abandon grammar rules and your readers may desert your prose for something better written.
Writing well matters. If you still don’t believe that, then check out these two examples:
An intellectual property broker was engaged as a strategy to actualize greater positivism about the region.
Two thousand employees underwent a career alternative enhancement program.
These examples are courtesy of How to Write Your Best. As Mr. Weathers points out in both instances, “…the writer not only confuses the reader at the start, but, after the reader figures out what he’s saying (or failing to say), the writer loses his credibility. After that, he’s lost all power to persuade”.
Writing brings with it a responsibility to do our best, write with an awareness of how others perceive our words, and accept the impact it has on the reader. Doing that will allow us to connect with our readers and develop the trust that’s needed for effective communication.