Assumptions and attitude shape writers in so many ways

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2012 - 3:46 PM

Thanks for joining me this morning. I really appreciate your time. As you know, we have received a number of complaints about the quality of our writing, and I want your help in diagnosing the problem.

Yes, you with the powdered sugar on your nose and the coffee stain on your shirt.

"Who, me?"

Yes, what do you think?

"I say don't worry about it. People just like to gripe. As long as they understand what you mean, it don't matter if you make an occasional error."

So you think we're doing fine? Our readers are just being picky?

"Yep. Tell 'em to get a life. I got more important things to worry about than grammer and spelling and punctuation."

You mean "grammar."

"Whatever."

Are there other opinions? Yes, you in the three-piece suit and the wingtip shoes.

"As per my perusal of several illustrative documents, and in my own personal and professional opinion, I deem the complaints to be wholly unwarranted and entirely supercilious."

I see. So, again, the problem is our readers, not the style or quality of our writing?

"Indisputably."

All right, and what do you think? Yes, you, the young man talking so loudly on his the cellphone that everyone in the restaurant can hear his conversation. Excuse me for interrupting. Hello, there. What are your thoughts?

"Hang on, hang on. Some guy wants to talk to me. You want my thoughts about what?"

About writing.

"What about it? Writing is overblown. Just write the way you speak. Now, if you don't mind, I'm looking to close a deal here."

OK. Sorry to interrupt. How about you with the plastic pocket protector filled with mechanical pencils?

"Words are abstract concepts. Empirical knowledge is what counts. Numbers tell the real story. I have to get back to my equations now."

Wait. Hold on. Are you by any chance a technical writer?

"Affirmative."

And are you more comfortable with graphs and tables than with words?

"Correct."

And -- forgive me if this seems like a personal question -- have you ever ventured a subordinate clause, you know, something to mix it up a little, add a little rhythm, maybe create some variety in your sentence structure?

"I write with precision. Subordinate clauses are unnecessary. I get to the point. Subject verb period. Subject verb period."

Well, all right. There's certainly a place for clear, straightforward expression, though I wonder if your readers expect something more from you on occasion.

Let's see. How about you, the young woman with the dark-rimmed glasses and the copy of Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style' beside her breakfast plate? What are your thoughts about writing?

"Language is our window to the world. Inspired by great literature, sustained and elevated by the power of our purpose, armed with the rules of grammar, we are prepared to communicate with clarity, emphasis and style."

Wow. Thank you, ma'am. I think you have identified the solution to our problem.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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