Elements of Writing Style

03Feb11

(apologies to Elements of Style / William J. Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White)

A writer’s task is to communicate whether they are bloggers, university students or lawyers. The form and content varies in each type of writing, but communicating clearly and precisely is fundamental to the writer’s task. The writer needs an engaged reader, but once the she pauses puzzled in the reading process, due to an awkward phrase or something else “clunky,” then the writer has failed to live up to his part of the bargain. Today there is so much noise in the media landscape, the writer has a more daunting task than ever.

I am surrounded by intelligent people learning the craft of legal writing and drafting memos. You might shy away from former Guardian newspaper science editor Tim Radford’s manifesto, but think of them as what works when writing is doing its job. Radford forged them as part of media training for Elsevier editors circa 1996 or earlier. I found myself smiling at his spaghetti metaphor, which was elegantly expressed and maybe…timeless. Here’s a teaser from the manifesto:

9. So if an issue is tangled like a plate of spaghetti, then regard your story as just one strand of spaghetti, carefully drawn from the whole. Ideally with the oil, garlic and tomato sauce adhering to it. The reader will be grateful for being given the simple part, not the complicated whole. That is because (a) the reader knows life is complicated, but is grateful to have at least one strand explained clearly, and (b) because nobody ever reads stories that say “What follows is inexplicably complicated …”

— Brenda

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