There Is No Excuse for Unclear Writing

Courtesy of TravelBlog.

The foremost purpose of writing is to communicate. Unlike other forms of communication, like speaking, writing can also preserve. It’s both a place where thoughts and feelings can be kept for posterity and a way for them to traverse space and time, so that I can know, for instance, what someone was going through in another context–generations ago, across the world–from the convenience of sitting in my armchair.

Since writing’s purpose is to communicate, there is no reason–I repeat, there is no reason–to ever write in a way that’s unclear. This isn’t to say that writing can’t be about unclear things; part of its amazing versatility is its ability to deal with both the abstract and the concrete, and to even embody these two opposites in its very form: words, after all, are concrete sounds that represent abstract ideas.

To put it another way: effective writing is a lens in focus. Imagine taking a photo of a lake. The lake itself can be clear or dirty, but if the lens is dirty, or if it isn’t in focus, then it immediately obfuscates the lake. In some experimental literature, especially poetry, this is intentional–a stylistic move with meaning, a commentary, etc. If it happens for a reason that services the story, and happens infrequently, then it may actually be effective. But a story is not just one photo but many put together into a movie. Imagine a movie in which the camera is out of focus the entire time, or is shaky, or has dust on its lens. This prevents clear communication and defeats the whole purpose of writing.

Regardless of what you want to say, saying it in a way that your audience understands is the only important aim. Why else say it?

Posted by James


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