When I write something and publish it, whether a Facebook post, a book review, or a blog, I hope people will read it. Often these posts are intended to persuade people to my point of view on the chosen topic. This requires that what I write be clear, concise, and cogent. (I sound like a Baptist preacher with all this alliteration.) This post is no exception. It is my contention that any of us who aspire to be apologists and/or evangelists have an obligation to write this way as an act of respect for our readers. In other words, part of what it means to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is to write in a style you would like to read. This is especially true if we are going to ask someone to pay for our materials.
Dennis Prager is fond of saying “Clarity before agreement.” This is what Paul would call a “trustworthy saying.” We cannot begin the task of helping to move someone’s view from error to truth until they first understand what we have to offer. (This assumes we have done our homework to be sure we understand theirs.) Obstacles to clarity can vary from gaps in our own understanding to simply poor writing mechanics. If we do not fully grasp the point we are trying to defend, it is very difficult to help someone else to do so, so lets be sure we have that down. However, we can know our view inside and out and still fail to communicate because we write so poorly.
When we write, if we are excessively verbose, we fail to show respect for our readers’ time. We should give enough information to be clear, but not in a manner that is so repetitive and redundant that reading the piece becomes a chore. This means devices such as using questions as transitions should be used sparingly, and only when there is a major transition. Moreover, overuse of words like “now” and “well” also unnecessarily lengthens the piece, not to mention making reading it become an unpleasant experience.
Naturally, we ought to argue well, avoiding fallacies and poor argumentation. Sometimes, even cogent arguments can be undermined if our writing is littered with hasty generalizations, even if they are intended to be hyperbolic. Excessive use of phrases such as “we all have had…” and “most of us have…” can have the effect of looking like the fallacy of hasty generalization. When I see this, it reminds me of the fact that you can always tell when someone is about to say something they cannot defend when they open it with “We all know…” or “Everyone knows…”
Finally, those of us in the practice of writing with the hope of persuasion ought to have the humility to recognize the need for help from those more skilled than we are to improve our writing. To write badly in the name of “authenticity” is simply to be authentically bad at writing. There is no virtue in that.
4 thoughts on “Anything Worth Writing Is Worth Writing Well”
No offense, but I know this is about my book and I regret to say that you are doing exactly what my book is intending to help people steer away from, and that is not thinking critically before making statements. You see, while you may think that a writing is “bad,” hundreds or thousands of other people may differ on that opinion, which they do from what I have heard. I don’t know how many books you have published, but I have published two now and nearly 1600 people have downloaded them in the last six months, and only 2 of them complained about my writing style, and one of those two people was you. I am not bragging. My point is that even if someone’s writing really is bad, there is no completely objective way to prove that. Therefore you should be far more tentative when you make claims of this sort.
Blessings to you and your ministry. I mean that! 🙂
You’re so vain. You prob’ly think this post is about you… (With apologies to Carly Simon)
Seriously, though I appreciate your feedback. I don’t think of myself as any kind of literary expert. I am, however an observant reader. I also have been working in college classrooms where writing is taught for the last 20 years. Be that as it may, I approached this article with fear and trembling as I did not want it to simply reflect my subjective tastes. I sought the views of those who know more than I. I read an excerpt of your book to a middle school English teacher and she was appalled that writing like this came from the pen of someone with a Master’s degree.
As far as how many books I have published, the answer is zero. However, you and I have an equal number of books published by an actual publishing house (not that I have submitted any.)
One, I am not vain at all. Two, my comments are true even if the post is not about me. Stop badmouthing people and start owning your life and responsibilities as a leader.
Sorry for the misunderstanding, but the “vain ” comment was a song reference, where even in the song it was clear it was really about the person being accused of vanity. That was intended as humor, not insult.