Every once in a while, I open a book or a newspaper to read. The headline sounds somewhat interesting, and I’m all excited about the content of the piece. Five minutes, half a page and two Tylenols later, I have completely changed my mind.
We seem to be wasting too much time with a problem that some may be unaware of, but could be easily corrected: the lack of simplicity.
In journalism school, there are a couple rules you should follow, which I think could serve as guidelines for other professionals too: Be clear, concise and direct. If you need to say something or write about a specific topic you want people to know, don’t bog it down with obscure vocabulary words and idioms so that you say in 20 pages what you could have said in two. Just spit it out, using words that an ordinary person could understand.
Unfortunately, most writers have a tendency not to follow these edicts. Many times, students have to face books written by authors who should have been born back in the 16th century, where their Shakespearean speeches would have been pretty hip.
Scholars, for one, have a tendency to do that all the time. It might be a pattern that they’re supposed to follow, but as a current Ph.D. student and hopefully future academic, it makes no sense to me. Knowledge should be something you want to pass along in the easiest way possible to as many people as you can without forcing them to fish for words in their battered old Merriam Webster.
Regular people too have an inclination for making things more confusing that they ought to be also. Every once in a while, just reading the newspaper, you can see articles or letters that use many complicated terms, which the writers fail to explain.
A good writer is able to make his or her point without sacrificing eloquence. However, in most other cases you can read passages over and over and still not be clear as to why someone took his time to write them. What’s the point of writing something if nobody can understand it?
Many times the use of extravagant expressions simply hides an even worse problem: lack of content. I could write 50 pages using the most interesting and impressive terms from the literature of international relations or communication, for example, and still say nothing important or useful at all (Although I guess it would look smart.).
No, I don’t think we need to dumb down our writing. Writing also has the value of teaching people new expressions, some which might be very useful in the future, such as the “intermittent” from a couple lines above. But it’s one thing to make one out of 50 lines a little harder, and another to make 49 out of 50 lines simply incomprehensible.
Daniel Paskin is a doctoral student in the School of International Studies.