12 March 2012

Writing the Way We Speak May No Longer Be a Valid Writing Rule

Some writers advise us to write as we speak as a way of producing easy to read and understand written work. They are urging us to do this because they want to prevent our write-up from sounding artificial and stilted. Indeed writing in the natural pattern of the language can greatly increase the readability of the written material.

The advent of the Internet has however brought up the need to re-examine this precept. Millions of people are using English all over the world. And what is a natural pattern for a certain place may not be the same in others. There may be a difference in the pattern by which English is spoken by an American and by a Chinese speaker. Which one of those now is the natural pattern of spoken English?

Speaking in a language and writing on the same are entirely different forms of human activity. While talking face to face, we are exposed to a variety of reactions that help us fashion the way we speak to aid common understanding. Such enabling environment is not present when someone is reading a written work. The author is not present to clarify whatever it is that confuses the reader.

Thus we should be more careful when writing to avoid the danger of having our thoughts misunderstood by our readers. We try to use words that have definite meanings and sharpen our ideas to make sure that we say what we mean. We do not assume that our readers have the same educational background as we have nor do we assume that they are up to date with the latest developments in the field that we are writing on. We cannot be as careless as when we're talking with a colleague with whom we are working on a project in a certain field of study.

When talking with a friend, we use a lot of shortcuts and idioms but still our friend gets what we want to impart upon him. This is because through the years that we and our friend have developed a shared vocabulary whose meanings are well-known to both of us. We cannot use this style and manner of speaking for writing materials that are intended to be read by people who are not known to us and are not to be expected to know the particular meanings of a vocabulary that we share with a friend.

Writing while trying to evade these traps will undoubtedly make our write-up sound formal and detached. But I believe that this is as it should be. We don't personally know the persons who will read our written work. It would be presumptuous for us to talk with them as if we have known them for a long time. The reader may detect an attempt from us to be cozy with them when in fact, we have just met them for the first time. The effect of this move may in all probability be negative.

So we must ensure that we write in the clearest way that we can. We must focus on the facts and avoid talking about the things that we have not tried and proven to be true. We must be explicitly clear when giving an opinion and not pass our opinion as the generally accepted truth. In other words, we need to communicate our respect toward our readers. We try our best to teach them the facts and show them how a certain activity is to be undertaken. But we do not force our opinion on them.

Rather that talking to them, we should on the other hand open a window to our mind and invite the reader to take a glimpse upon it in the hope that he may find some items that may prove useful in engaging with the challenges that he is facing. We should not impose upon our reader a certain pattern of language usage which may not sit well with the language being used by our reader. Let us be more conservative in our approach to writing so as not to alienate our readers. Writing in the way as we speak as a writing rule may not always work as more non-native speakers read our written works in English.

Download links to articles on becoming a good writer at: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwcdVZGRss3eZWYxYmEzYTgtMWU5Mi00NjU3LWFjNzktNjIxOWZiZjY0ODFm.