Thursday, September 22, 2005

Too Many Looks Spoil the Prose

Writing Tip of the Week

Letting too many people comment on the style and substance of a document you have written is a surefire way to slow down progress. It also hampers communication. The reason is simple. People who review the document feel compelled to change a word, add a phrase or leave some other imprint, even if the copy is well written. Unfortunately, some people equate wordiness with effective writing. Some even insist on imposing out-of-date grammar and writing styles. And let's be honest. Some people simply cannot write.

If you've ever faced this problem, there is a solution: Restrict comments on style to only one or two colleagues who are skilled enough to make such comments. From the others, insist that they read only for substance and accuracy. Always make the case for simple and concise writing, and stick to your guns.


Shirazi said...

Here I have to write this. I have to.

I wrote in Urdu (my first language) till 1997 (and I started with short stories – fiction). Urdu press does not pay for written work. A senior woman writer Naila Daud met me and asked to write in English (that starts in sixth year of education here). I hesitated because I did not know how to write smoothly flowing prose in English. She said, “what have you learnt in class six (sixth year of education when English learning starts).” Simple: “She is laughing, he is walking, Nasima is a girl, Ali is a boy,” was my reply. Naila said, “write what you see in these sentences.” I am trying to do that ever since. That defines my style.

That said, I think every one has own unique and distinctive style. I am not for comments on style. Even professional editors and proof readers should not change the style. Comments on substance are of course welcome.

Great post for every writer and would be writers. Cool image by the way ;-)

SHA said...

But aren't we restricting ourselves from feedback which might be constructive by restricting the number of people for commenting. I mean surely not everyone will add something useful but there is always room for improvement.

PS: Thanks for linking me. I appreciate it a lot.

Deb S. said...

Shirazi, you make great points. Well put. Thank you.

Saad, you raise a very good and important question. First of all, you are right. There is always room for improvement. However, let me give you an example of how I handle editing a company newsletter.

Several departments contribute content, but I am ultimately responsible for the writing and editing - making sure that the publication is easy to read and the writing style is consistent. Once the writing and editing are completed, I circulate a draft of the newsletter to every department, asking them to read for accuracy. If there is something inaccurate in an article, this gives me an opportunity to fix it.

However, if someone alters a word or phrase "just because," I don't make that change unless it actually improves the article. Many times changes that people suggest contain poor grammar or awkward writing.

I am not a dictator, and I will gladly review all recommendations. That said, I tell my colleagues that not everything is a democracy! Editing by committee is TORTURE, and I am not into pain!

As an editor, my job is to make sure that the publication is written well, flows smoothly, and represents the organization at its best. At some point, I have to draw the line because people will continue to make changes as long as you continue to sending them revised drafts. It becomes a never-ending task and deadlines are missed.

I hope this answers your question, Saad. Also, I am honored to add your site to my links. Again, thank you for asking such a great question.

P.S. In a former job, my colleagues teasingly called me the "czar." Yes, they complained sometimes during the editing process, but they were always happy with the finished product.

Rose said...

Yeah, you are a hard one. But the results are good. But there are some who just want to say that they found something even if that something they are adding is not a good fit. I had a staff person who took the red pen out on me, but I did not make the changes after consulting with several executives. Her changes were based on how she felt the wording should be written. I was not looking for her feelings.

Deb S. said...

"I was not looking for her feelings." That, dear Rose, is a sound bite.

Alina said...

Well, my writing style has changed - or improved - over the years, since the moment I started studying for the Journalism faculty and during the four years I spent there. I was mostly writing essays and was pretty good in dialogues (or so my Literature teacher said) but only after high-school I learned how to write about facts and how to get a good portrait done.

As for my style, I like comments on it as I like any other kind of feedback on what I write. Yet I would never change my style as it defines me.

Deb S. said...

Kayla, I have already visited your sites, and I enjoy my time there. You have a great style, and I encourage you to keep it.