The problem with writing

2 minute read

One of the biggest problems any writer faces a misunderstanding about what the word actually means. I’d put this in the same realm as the word “Theory” which doesn’t mean “guesswork”, but actually means an explanation backed up with verifiable proof.

Just a theory: 7 misused words
From "significant" to "natural," here are seven scientific terms that can prove troublesome for the public and across research disciplines
scientificamerican.com

So what’s the problem?

Writing is certainly the act of slotting different words of a particular language together into understandable sentences. And many people do this on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis (as required by the Facebook Terms & Conditions, subsection 8, paragraph 2: All your words are belong to us.).

What’s at stake however is clear communication, that makes no assumptions and conveys ideas clearly.

So give me an example

Let’s take an example I’ve experienced recently at work. There’s a manager who has ideas and he writes these in email messages. And when I receive these messages, I usually need to ask clarifying questions, because I simply don’t understand what the hell he’s getting at.

This happens because the Manager knows what he wants, and knows information I don’t. However, as I’m outside the decision making process, can’t read his mind, I don’t know what he knows, therefore I need to ask questions.

This unaccountably annoys him. And we end up in a bitter cycle, all because of miscommunication.

The workaround

There’s a few workarounds engaged by governments, businesses and the like to get around communication issues, and usually feature standard text that often looks like this:

Our company this issue.

We respect and .

We must now wait respectfully for .

The trouble is, because these types of paragraphs are used so frequently, it’s easy to spot them. And if it’s easy to spot, your message goes out the window and you look insincere at best, or complete liars at worst.

Clear writing is a skill

Writers are actually communicators of the written word (writunicators?). They absorb complex ideas and concepts, think about them for a while, then output sentences that clarify what these ideas actually mean. They’re skilled in the same way as an engineer, a software developer, an MBA or teacher. And they can write about all these things and more in a way that’s understandable, engaging in and in some cases, actually entertaining.

It’s a little like the Wired.com Five Levels video series, where an expert explains concepts to different age groups.

Neuroscientist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty | WIRED

The take-home message

The bottom line is this: just because you can string words together doesn’t mean you can write clearly. And overused standard text makes you look stupid.

And people who can communicate are your friend.