Effective Writing

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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What is effective writing? In economic terms, it's delivering a good deal of sense in as few words as possible. In visual terms, it's being exquisitely clear in conveying an idea. In sum, effective writing is simple, straightforward, and engaging. "When you write," one author suggested, "try to leave out all the parts readers skip."

Effective Writing: What Not to Do

The simple and straightforward admonition has much to do with choice of vocabulary as it does sentence structure. "Short words are best," Winston Churchill said, echoing John Ruskin's recommendation for "the plainest possible words." Both are good advice. The right word at the right time is a step toward effective writing, no question. Pretentious writing--whether it's well-meant jargon or is designed simply to impress--tends to backfire.

A poor choice of words certainly trips readers up. Sometimes it stops them cold. "Given the fragmentation and temporal variation in the provision of the parental function by the contemporary family, what is the most constructive response of policy?" This is a real sentence from a real book by a real author, by the way. I understand it to ask how public policy might be shaped to help resolve the problem of broken homes and shared child custody. That was just my best guess.

Just to drive the point home, I give you another example. "Structural imperatives and economic fluctuations have precluded many from accessing economic power, as the impoverished typically have limited contact with opportunity structures." I translate that to mean that poor people don't encounter many opportunities to escape their poverty. I could be wrong. Effective writing communicates a clear point above all.


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