Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Should you keep your audience in the dark?

That is, should you quote a from an article you disapprove without identifying the author and source? Back in college not crediting your source was considered plagiarism. Out in the real world you might instead get sued for libel or defamation when you stand up and name names.

Last Thursday Lisa Braithwaite posted on the topic Do You Make Your Audience Feel Stupid?. She quoted from an article without identifying its author. The passages she quoted are pure CEOspeak, lingo slinging I have previously derided as corporate Whipped Topping. One sentence had 42 words! That kind of writing is intended to impress rather than to inform.

I won’t identify the author, but know he’s a big gun professional speaker who has written books and should really know better. He doesn’t speak like that, so he shouldn’t write like that.

In a blog you have at least three options for handling quotes:

1. Name the author, and then let him respond via a comment.

2. Put the idea into your own words - paraphrase it.
3. Hold your tongue so you don’t seem Mean.

Writing (or speaking) clearly is not simple. It takes much more effort than spewing jargon. You can try first explaining ideas to your grandmother or granddaughter. You also might run your text through the Lexile Analyzer to quantify its degree of difficulty.

I had to put much more thought into writing three articles for insurance adjusters in Claims magazine than for others in technical journals like Metallurgical Transactions or the Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention.

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