Precision in writing delivers not only clarity, but credibility that builds trust.
Any enterprise aiming to sell its products, services or ideas does well to write well.
Poor grammar, inflated sentences and misspellings undermine readers' trust.
Readers of this column know I revere the writing in the New Yorker magazine.
You have to scour hundreds of issues to find a single impurity, sometimes seemingly for years on end.
Yet even that stately standard setter occasionally misses the mark.
Before identifying a most recent example, I will recall one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons of all time, published in 1928.
Everyone in America knew this advertising slogan: "IVORY SOAP … 99 44/100% PURE … IT FLOATS"
The cartoon, one in a series called Industrial Crisis, shows corporate executives, dumbstruck and desperate, peering into a swimming pool at their company. The caption:
"The day a cake of soap sank at Procter & Gamble's."
So, consider my dismay when the magazine spelled the first name of the CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl as Leslie.
Worse, in an article by the magazine's editor.
Another type of careless error, from a different source:
"Organ donations from the living reached a record high last year, outnumbering donors who were already dead for the first time."
"For the first time" has to go before "outnumbering."
If we make mistakes like that, or publish news releases with garbled language, imagine the reaction of potential customers: Their trust can sink, just like that cake of soap.
Yes, grammar has rules.
But, every once in a while, you can put to use that 56/100% impurity by breaking a rule to create an effect — as long as it works.
Take this traditional tune's double negative:
"Mama don't allow no banjo playin' around here. … Gonna play my banjo anyhow."
So, we can look at writing not as an excruciating task, but as a joyful exercise, in which we play with words that make our meaning clear and, along the way, sometimes create delight.
Gary Gilson is a Twin Cities writing coach and Emmy Award winner. He also teaches journalism at Colorado College. Gilson can be reached through his website writebetterwithgary.com.