Writers; Words Matter. Chose and Define them Properly

As a note before I get started, I am going to be discussing this topic partially in the context of some miscommunication in my social commentary post yesterday. However, I will be saving those specific issues for another post. This is NOT social commentary, just discussing the importance of clarity in communication.

The one reply I got to my post on the Elites yesterday made some interesting points. I did my best to refute them, but the problem really wasn’t with the replying person so much as it was that I hadn’t defined some of my terms clearly enough. Particularly for newer readers who may mot have seen earlier posts.

This is a common situation nowadays, and a lesson for writers. The extreme elements of both political parties and many special interest groups go out of their way to misuse terms and change definitions to suit their arguments. Even when we’re not talking political and social issues, both writers and readers tend to get lazy in how they interpret a word’s meaning or the intent of a paragraph.

Therefore, it falls upon us as writers to be as clear as possible. If you read the great thinkers of the enlightenment, such as Montesquieu, every word of their writing is carefully chosen and there’s never any doubt as to what they’re saying. These are folks you should read just to study critical thinking and good communication, even if you don’t care about government or humanities.

Around the time Neuro-Linguistic Programming came into being however, people trying to get clever with wording began to become epidemic. Ambiguity is an advocated technique in NLP. Ambiguity creates confusion in the mind of the listener / reader and makes them more open to persuasion as their mind tries to fit the vague wording and innuendo into an understandable framework.

Between lawyers and politicians, we also have the secondary cause of people trying to structure language as a way to give themselves an excuse or deniability… to avoid responsibility for any fallout.

While any writer or speaker should consider the ways their words might be misinterpreted, going out of one’s way to be vague is NOT being artful, it’s being a weasel. People are getting better at sensing it too, and nobody respects a weasel.

Chose your words carefully, but have the courage of your beliefs. Write or speak clearly.

If there’s any doubt about what you mean, find a better way to word it, or define your terms right there instead of waiting for them to be misinterpreted. Words like “elites” are used by numerous groups with wildly varying interpretations.

This problem is why editing and multiple drafts are also important to writers. Seat of your pants writing is fine for first drafts, but editing and rewrites are what makes the difference between a good writer and a great one.

6 thoughts on “Writers; Words Matter. Chose and Define them Properly

  1. richardbist

    Having worked in marketing and communications, I can attest that word choice matters. In fact, punctuation does, as well. A company I worked for was sued due to one of the copywriters removing a comma from a sentence, which in turn changed the intended meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Todd Garlington

    I agree wholeheartedly, although a recent bout of despair prompted me to write:
    There was a time when society cared about writers and the written word. That time has passed. What remains is data attached to sales figures in a world awash with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
    When I was younger I struggled with word choice, so I understand that it takes work–and time. Perhaps the problem is that people today are simply too busy.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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