Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Composition and Style 1

I know that my own writing skills have diminished since my school days and that I've slipped into some casual habits that aren't exactly considered 'good writing.' However, in this case, do as I say and not as I do. ;-)

I was fortunate to have some excellent teachers over the years who left me with some strong literary pet peeves. Their focus of instruction was teaching us how to communicate effectively and efficiently. They were wise enough to recognize the little tricks students used to fulfill their word count requirements for essays, etc., without actually saying much of substance. Sometimes that Dickensish flourish of phrases and words is fun and okay, but in general it's best to limit accessory and transitional phrases, especially when using them presents rather illogical connections.

Two of the most common culprits in transitional error are the phrases "needless to say" and "it goes without saying." If it is "needless" or "goes without saying" then don't say it. This was the rule I was taught, and it very much appeals to my logical thinking. The argument presented by my teachers was that when you use those phrases you are essentially nullifying whatever comes next although the intention is to say that something is obvious. Their solution to this problem was to simply use "obviously" or "apparently" or some other single word (or none at all and just say what you are going to say) that is more accurate in describing your next thought. These teachers wanted to instruct us on how to make sure every word we used was essential and supportive of the ideas we were trying to express. Word economy is perhaps a good description of this idea.

For example, here is part of the above message rewritten using those transitions so you can see how it changes the tone and effectiveness:

Needless to say, these teachers wanted to instruct us on how to make sure every word we used was essential and supportive of the ideas we were trying to express. It goes without saying, word economy is a good description of this idea.


Hmm, see how annoying and clumsy that sounds? Also, using those phrases gives a tone of condenscension and pretension, even if that is not the intention.

Well, I know I sound like a hard-ass about it, and I'm sorry if that is offensive to anyone. I don't mean any offense at all. I'm just trying to play "English teacher" here and share some of the great things I learned many years ago.

2 comments:

dhammett said...

OK, dude, like, truthfully, I mean, I'm like so totally afraid of, you know, like, saying something that's kind of, you know, not direct or to the point or, um, well, I don't know, like, whatever.

Rae Ann said...

LOL, good one!