Saturday, May 22, 2010

Write it right, and you'll say it right

Philip Yaffe wrote an excellent article on speechwriting titled The Better You Write It, The Better You Say It, which was in the March 2010 issue of Toastmaster magazine. You also can find earlier versions on Article Base and Searchwarp.

Mr. Yaffe laments that what are sometimes called principles of writing merely are tips – descriptions of what to do, rather than why to do it. (Tips are tactics; principles are strategy).

He says the three principles are clarity, conciseness, and density and uses “semi-mathematical formulas” to describe them. For example, in describing how to achieve clarity (Cl) he says that your writing should:

Emphasize what is of key importance (E)
De-emphasize what is of secondary importance (D), and
Eliminate what is of no importance (E again, which I would call Un)

Philip expresses this with the equation: Cl = E D E,
which might better be written: Cl = E + D – Un

Writing pseudo equations is about all you can really do in a pure text article format. If you have graphics and color, like PowerPoint or Keynote, then you easily can do much better with some traffic-light colored arrows and an X, inspired by Dave Paradi’s Slide Makeover #46.

He also says that to be concise your writing should be both as long as necessary and as short as possible: Co = L S. Minimalism or simplicity is an old idea. I’ve discussed it in a post on Why less is more - or even less, and so has Olivia Mitchell.

Finally, Philip says that your writing should be dense, with precise information that is logically linked. D = P L. After describing those three principles he gives his list of ten tips:

1. Keep sentences short

2. Prefer the simple to the complex

3. Prefer the familiar word

4. Avoid unnecessary words

5. Use active verbs

6. Write the way you speak

7. Use terms your audience can picture

8. Tie in with your reader’s experience

9. Make full use of variety

10. Write to express, not to impress

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