"Audience," we writing teachers tell our students, "is one of the most important considerations for a writer doing business or technical writing"...or any kind of prose writing, for that matter. We greatly emphasize this essential building block of writing, telling our students
- Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing.
- Knowing your audience—their general age, gender, education level, religion, language, culture, and group membership—is the single most important aspect of developing your essay.
- When writing for business, we need an audience-centric approach and must create our message in a language appropriate to audience needs.
I realize this advice sounds perfectly familiar to any writing teacher and to anyone who ever sat through a writing class in college. But this is the biggest mistake we writing teachers make....
Writing, according to Aristotle, has three purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to delight (entertain). I imagine these purposes on a line. To the far left is writing to inform. Just to the right of that is writing to persuade. And at the extreme right is writing to delight and entertain.
While I’ve dedicated much of my working life to the first two purposes, I’m not unacquainted with the far extreme of writing to delight. This blog post celebrates that far extreme where words transform into art. But specifically, this post is in honor of the Nobel Prize-wining poet Derek Walcott, my teacher, who died on Friday (March 17, 2017) at 87….
We all tend to follow the path of least resistance. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever work hard. Sometimes working to grow a business consumes your attention 24/7…but there’s no other path to success. But, as Mark Cuban reminds us in his surprisingly brilliant little book, How to Win at the Sport of Business (https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Sport-Business-Can-ebook/dp/B006AX6ONI), whatever you’re selling will fail if it doesn’t offer the customer the path of least resistance.
And that’s why my HOCs & LOCs approach to writing—as brilliant as it is, as much as students whom I force it on end up loving it and people in my writing seminars who have paid to hear what I have to say about writing love it and retain its main ideas over many years—is having a really tough time catching on. My bad!
I wanted to talk to you now after the first 3 weeks of class about 4 things that are very important to your success moving forward in our class. So in this rather long email, I’ll talk about the following:
By definition, “editing” appears to be a reactive exercise—we have a text and edit it, finding and fixing weaknesses and whoppers. But some of the most important, time-saving editing editors can do should come before any words are written, or, to be more precise, before any drafts have begun. How does that work?
What does a good report sound like? Does it sound like this?
Or like this:
Over lighting is an international concern, with much of the Earth’s population living under light-polluted skies, which, if you live in an urban or suburban area, all you have to do to see this type of pollution is go outside at night and look up at the sky.
Maybe a good report receives great applause and appreciation from its audience and sounds like this?
Or like this:
In this special report there is the inclusion of recommendations whose intention is to improve the cost‑effectiveness of state programs, such as the Department of Health Care Services, School‑Based Medi‑Cal Administrative Activities programs audit that identified weaknesses in the contracts between the local educational consortia or local governmental agencies and their claiming units that effective Health Care Services’ oversight should have prevented.
Come on folks, we can do better than this.
Treat your sentences…paragraphs…sections as though they were alive, as though they were spoken aloud to the invisible (but easily imaginable) actual report reader, face-to-face! Words are actually magic. (http://themindunleashed.com/2015/03/magic-and-the-power-of-words.html)
Why don’t sentences in a lot of workplace writing—from email to complex, team-generated reports (and probably this very blog) SING? And how might we allow them to croon and warble just a little more pleasantly?
I admit it. I’m a tad S-L-O-W sometimes. It has taken me over 35 years to figure out the very simple answer to a question I get a lot: What’s so different about the way you teach writing?
SO MUCH WRITING ADVICE includes the following: Write S-V-O sentences for greater impact. Here’s one of my favorite S-V-O sentences (subject-verb-object):
Our lack of pertinent data prevented determination of committee action effectiveness in fund targeting to areas of greatest assistance need.
Wow. That’s a prize-winner for sure. And it IS an S-V-O sentence. (S=lack; V=prevented; O=determination). So what’s going wrong?
It’s not enough to say write S-V-O sentences because even those can go wildly awry. What IS important is writing sentences with a strong sentence core.
Here’s another version of that S-V-O sentence, this time written with strong cores in every clause.
Because we lacked pertinent information, we couldn’t determine if the committee had targeted funds to areas that needed assistance the most.
Not as much fun, I know…but way more clear. So what is the sentence core and how does it work its revisionary magic?