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Words About Words

Reflections on the Character of Written Communication

(This is the second in a series of essays on the subject of better writing as a versatile means for communicating through a more effective use of words.)

Writing is said to be the second means to communicate. Speaking is first because it can be learned adequately by listening to others. Comprehensible writing, however, is a taught skill. And while almost anyone is capable of expressing thoughts with a basic knowledge of writing, relatively few take the time and expend the persistence necessary to achieve the goal of using better expression. Why strive for such an objective?

The reasons are apparent in our everyday lives. To develop motivation for responding to an offer, to clearly explain how something works, or to describe an event in a compelling manner—all these actions call for something beyond familiarity with the subject. Success often is easier to achieve whenever these intentions are put forth in specific, more persuasive, or more dramatic descriptions.

A familiar saying that claims a picture is worth a thousand words is most apt when dealing with the physical characteristics of an object or a landscape or even a person. But words—well-chosen words—are what reveal the unseen properties, the surrounding relationships, and the feelings relating to that particular visualization. To do this effectively requires the writer to develop a rich vocabulary and mastery of complexities of the grammar which makes vocabulary function well.

Professional writers and editors---whether working on content for a feature article, a news story, a promotion piece, an instruction manual, or a legal document---all tread similar paths to reach viable results. They strive to create expressions that have clarity in establishing vivid mental images, or molding sympathetic feelings, or in defining terms and conditions with exactness. In so doing, they weave words together to create patterns of thought that are often remarkable and seldom less than suitable.

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