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Eschew obfuscation assiduously.
Even if you know the meaning of every one of those words, it still took you longer to get the sense of the sentence than it would have if I’d written Try hard to avoid writing in a way that’s difficult to understand. OK, it took four times as many words, and I’m a great believer in never using more words than you need. But it was easy to understand immediately. I’m also a believer in writing so the reader can understand. The truism is: If the reader doesn’t understand what you wrote, you didn’t write anything.
Which brings us to KISS : Keep It Short & Simple.
This idea is on my mind this week because I’ve got a job copy editing a series of case studies. There’s a dozen or so by a number of writers. Some are pretty easy. Just need to make everything fit in the client’s style guide. Others are scary. We all know the terms legalese and ed-speak and a number of others that refer to language that seems more concerned with making the meaning obscure or proving what a great vocabulary the writer has than in actually conveying meaning. Some of the writers do one. Some the other. Some do both.
Here’s an example. The rewrite I did says:
It is necessary to increase enrollments in remedial classes among recent high school graduates and working adults.
The original sentence was:
Increasing not only the remedial class-going rate in the state of recent high school graduates is necessary, but so, too, is the necessity to increase enrollments of working adults.
Now, that’s what I call obfuscation. You may have had better luck than I, but I read that sentence about six times before I understood exactly what the writer meant. I kept wondering what in the state of recent high school graduates meant. I finally figured out that in the state should have followed high school graduates, not preceded it. Besides that, the whole report was about only one state, so it wasn’t necessary to mention that.
The other ‘sin’ of using a big word where a small one will do was also well represented. A word that shows up far too often in business writing is usage. It’s a perfectly good word, and it has its use, but use is more often the better usage. Let me explain.
Usage is a noun that means the manner in which something is used of the amount of use. It’s a habitual, accepted, or usual application or practice. It would be more practical to know about the annual usage of the space. Use, as a noun which rhymes with moose, means the way a thing is applied or employed to accomplish a task. Is there any way to use empty milk cartons? As a verb, use, which rhymes with booze , means to employ for a specific purpose. Let’s use our time to get this finished. In most cases, use is a better choice than usage, which tends to sound pretentious.
One of my favorites was effectuate, as in We were able to effectuate a change. I changed it to effect, but I could just as easily used cause or bring about. But, maybe the writer wouldn’t think that was as effectual.
Then, I worked on replacing words that simply didn’t mean what the writer thought they did. A word that is probably going to become acceptable simply because so many writers use it to mean something it doesn’t is methodology, as in We developed a new methodology for finding the right answers. Sounds really erudite (smart), but it doesn’t mean what the writer thinks. Most words that end in -ology have to do with a study of something: biology, zoology, cryptology. Methodology means the study of methods – not the same as method. What was developed was a new method; a new way or means to do something. There’s an important distinction between the tools of scientific investigation – the methods – and the principles that determine how the tools are used and interpreted – the methodology.
Just one more. The sentence was However, the linkages between original sources appear to be used episodically and not systematically to model and simulate the effect of policy decisions on loan applications. Aside from using linkages instead of links and using both model and simulate, which mean the same thing in this context, the writer doesn’t know what episodically most often means. He or she appears to think it means sporadically or infrequently. True, it can mean occasionally or at intervals, but, since that’s not its primary meaning, and the context doesn’t have anything to do with episodes, why not use a simple, direct word so the reader knows immediately and exactly what’s meant?
Why not KISS?
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