Friday, January 15, 2010

It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It

Clarity is very important to a writer. I have to make sure that what I say is clear to my readers because, even in this age of technology, they can’t contact me easily and ask a question about what I wrote. In a previous post I spoke about $20 words–those words that are beyond the average reader’s vocabulary and which they can’t get the meaning from the context. But there’s another side to clarity.

Since the economic downturn and last year’s fluctuating gasoline prices, I’ve noticed a marked increase in deceiving wording in the weekly brochures of the supermarket where I buy my groceries. Sometimes, it’s the fine print–I must buy four of something selling for 4 for $10 to get the discounted price. Another ploy is that an item is only for sale at that price on a particular day of the week. But the latest has been the lack of clarity in the ads in the weekly circular. Many times I’m not sure what to expect until I get to checkout.  And often I end up paying a higher price because I didn’t understand the ad in the first place.

Sure, what you say is important, but how you say it to your readers is just as important, if not more so. Don’t expect your readers to make a leap. What you perceive as clear to you may not be to them. This could be leap in time, a leap in place, or a leap in understanding. How many times have you said something to someone, who is obviously hurt by your comment, only to quickly add, “I didn’t mean that.” If you didn’t mean what you said, then you should have said it another way. The same applies to writing. But it’s even more critical here because you can’t say, “I didn’t mean that” to a reader you don’t know and can’t see.

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