The other day someone expressed her disappointment in my writing style.
She felt that my vocabulary was too limited and my style was too simplistic. From her point of view, as a well-educated person, she was probably right. Most of my essays are written to a tenth grade reading level and in a style that the “common” reader will find more comfortable. You seldom find my references to be complicated or obscure. The idea is to make my ideas available to as many readers as possible.
Local newspapers are produced for the widest possible audience. We want everyone to have a chance to understand what we are saying.
Now, if I were writing for a special audience on a more specific topic, I would use a style and vocabulary designed to provide the audience with a more detailed and comprehensive image of the subject in question. But that would not be published in a general-circulation publication. It would be oriented to the special audience. So, if you want me to address some exotic subject, then let me know the topic to be addressed and the publication to which I should submit it. I will write to that audience without attempting to reduce it to a more general level.
I like to use a story from the rural South to illustrate this: Grandmother finally finished a new quilt top. She obtained backing and some cotton for the quilt, stretched it on her quilting frame and began to stitch it all together. Junior came rushing in with some kind of news, tripped on the doorjam and fell into the frame. It broke in several places.
After grandma settled down she told Junior to go get the pick up and drive her to the department store to buy a new one.
The economy was as bad then as it is now. The local college had to lay off some of it professors, including the professor of English. He found a temporary job at the department store to help pay his bills until things improve and he could get back in the classroom.
Grandmother told him what had happened and asked him to find her a new quilting frame. He looked in the store’s product list and found nothing. So he checked all the catalogs hoping to order it for her. Still no luck. Finally in frustration he turned to grandmother and said, “Madam, it has become exceedingly difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of such items.”
Grandmother turned to Junior and asked, “Son, what did he just say?” “Well grandma,” Junior answered. I think he is trying to say that you can’t hardly find those anymore!”
Writing style needs to be targeted to the audience you expect to read it. It is just as improper to talk “over their heads” as it is to fail to use style and language that fails to provide your audience with the most possible information in a style they can understand.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.
02/24/13 at 01:49 AM
Frank some people use big words to make people think they are smarter than they really are? My Dad is a preacher and he says when he preaches he uses simple language so everyone in the audience can understand him? I have read stories in other papers and be so confused when I got done reading all I knew was the Title of the story. If you were to use big words and people had to look them up to figure out what you were saying the story would lose ALL meaning? I prefer your current writing style because ANYONE can understand it. Like me when I post something I use simple easy to understand words that way there is no question what I'm trying to say. Like others have posted comments to me and sometimes I wonder if they are agreeing with me OR putting me down?
I think the simple straight forward to the point style is best? That's what I would rather read.
Right on fellas. I could not have said it any better .Why make things difficult . Like Red just said keep it simple and keep it real .
02/27/13 at 07:27 PM
Country Boy- AND that's the biggest problem I have with Obama AND the current government. They get on TV and give their speeches and when they are done you are wondering WHAT did he just say. You are usually more confused after his speech than before? I believe in the get up and say what you want to say straight and to the point THEN SHUT UP and SIT DOWN.
Like I would rather hear someone with only a second grade Education speak that gets right to the root of the matter Than to hear someone who's got 15 degrees in public speaking get up and beat a dead horse for 45 minutes and talk about the problem but use words NOBODY understands and try to make you think He knows what he's doing.