Bad Writing: A Curse
What does that mean, the curse of bad writing? Yes, bad writing can be a curse. Why? Written language, a primary means of communication, is a critical skill. But bad writing? That poses a serious, life-long impairment. First and foremost: write what you mean, mean what you write, and do both with unambiguous language, proper grammar, and free of cliches and malapropisms.
Recently, I read the following sentence in one of my favorite women’s journals, an academically oriented one whose readership tends toward the highly educated and worldly. The first article that caught my attention, began as follows:
“Samantha Goldberg, (pseudonym) a literature professor at Columbia University, claims that she can introduce her students to Israeli women writers because Amazing Women Journal translates and publishes their short stories.”
I’m pretty sure I know that she means she can introduce her students to women writers, the sentence is ambiguous. I wonder, for instance, whose short stories does the journal publish – the Israeli women’s stories or the students’ stories? Yes, I’m being picky but with very little effort, the sentence could be totally flawless.
Another statement that suffers from some peculiar structure goes something like this:
“In Amazing Women Journal, you’ll encounter the life stories of women like–and decidedly unlike–yourself.” Yikes! Could the author have presented the same concept in a slightly clearer format? How about:
“In Amazing Women Journal, you’ll encounter the life stories of women who are both like, and unlike, you.”
Recently, I’ve become acutely aware that incorrect grammar — especially verb-noun agreement and the use of correct pronouns pose surprising challenges. Sloppy language patterns are on the rise, penetrating all sectors of society. One writer’s journal I read regularly referred to the topic of various genres as follows:
“Your book belongs to a certain genre, and that is great news. Genres come with baseline demographics. True, it won’t provide a representation of every reader you want to reach, but it gives you a good indication of whom your average reader is.”
Huh? My own approach to conveying the same concept more simply would be to suggest that: “Since specific genres attract clearly identifiable demographics, you can acquire a good indication of your average.”
Regardless of how we present the concept, “whom” might be happier in the company of a prepositional phrase. But if we’re not in the mood to dissect grammar’s components, how about striving for clarity, simplicity, and ease of conveying information? That can serve as a helpful guideline? (By the way, note: not, not “irregardless!).