"No ideas but in things," William Carlos Williams declared in the 1927 version of his poem, "Paterson," thereby helping set the tone for the modernist era.
Indeed, objects — especially when rendered with imagination and artful precision — do seem to speak for themselves. Trees have their own alphabets, and even cities can speak a language of their own.
But communication expert Peter Drucker has something important to add to the conversation: "Communication takes place in the mind of the listener, not the speaker," he is quoted as having said.
There's more than the thing or idea, and more than the speaker or writer. There's also an all-important third component — the listener or reader.
The communication triangle has been configured in various ways, but in all types of writing it has essentially the same three points: the sender, the thing being sent and the receiver.
Here's the point for you and your writing. If you're creating a work of literature, the third point of the triangle, the reader, is only relatively important. Of greater importance is your search for truth and beauty, your imagination and creativity and the quality of your literary expression as conveyed through your language or word choice.
In contrast, for the on-the-job writer — whether business, technical, medical, legal or even academic — the reader is of paramount importance.
Here's another way to make the point. If I asked you to name three adjectives that describe effective writing, what would you say?
If you're responding as an on-the-job writer, I'm guessing you'd say clear, concise and to the point. What other adjectives might you add? How about accurate, logical, specific, organized, persuasive/informative, forceful/enlightening, diplomatic, fast-paced/lively/energetic and interesting/engaging?
Now mark each of those nine attributes, as well as the first three, with an L if they relate primarily to language and with an R if they depend on the reader.
The attributes relating primarily to language are being concise, to the point, accurate, logical, specific, organized and fast-paced/lively/energetic. The attributes dependent on reader perception are writing that is clear, persuasive/informative, forceful/enlightening, diplomatic and interesting/engaging.
Now combine the two lists and arrange them in order of importance. I'm guessing you'll have an easier time if you're an on-the-job writer, and a harder time if you're a literary writer. I'm also guessing that, if you're an on-the-job writer, more of your R-attributes will appear near the top, with clear as number one.
As Williams so artfully illustrates, "so much depends upon" rainwater, a red wheelbarrow and white chickens. But so much also depends upon your ability to connect with your reader.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.wilbers.com.