Good English – why bother?

The purpose of words

Words are just raw materials; but what a difference the hand of the craftsman can make!

Just as the skilful carpenter creates a work of art by his craftsmanship and selection of tools, so the trained writer turns simple words into magnificent sentences by a careful choice of shape, rhythm, weight and balance.

And just as the beautiful furniture has a practical use – whether as a table you eat off or a chair you sit on – so too have the sentences, in conveying their creator’s meaning.

Communication

Whenever we write, we do so for a purpose. Whether to inform or entertain, to instruct or request, our mission is to get an idea as exactly as possible out of our mind and into someone else’s.

Consider this sentence (a real-life example):

“You, as a driver, due to the ongoing petrol shortage situation, are requested not to travel more than is absolutely necessary, in order to reduce the amount of petrol consumed by yourself”

then compare it with this:

“Petrol is in short supply so please use it sparingly.”

Or of course there is the famous wartime advertising slogan:

“Is your journey really necessary?”

Keep it simple: use short familiar words and obey common grammatical rules. Your reader will be far more impressed by your ability to send a plain message unambiguously than by a stream of long, obscure, Latin-root words, some of which you don’t understand and may, therefore, have used incorrectly.

Style

Apologists for the decline in present-day educational standards, especially in the field of literacy, claim that as long as the reader understands exactly what the writer intends, then poor spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure count for nothing.

Whilst this claim has its appeal, at least in so far as it recognises that the ultimate goal is communication, it loses all attraction when any test of style is applied. It’s all about focus, balance and aesthetics.

In literary style, less is usually more.

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