Avoid Faulty Diction.

 My last blog discussed the need for an effective vocabulary to write clearly.  Closely aligned with the task of learning sufficient words to create a usable vocabulary is the job of learning how to use the words properly. The selection of correct, clear, and effective words is defined as diction.

Faulty diction takes many forms.  Major pitfalls to avoid include lack of conciseness.  To write concisely, a good writer must pay close attention to several areas.  In the first place. eliminate excess language.  The traditional opening lead in bridge playing calls for leading from your longest and strongest suit.  The same rule applies to writing.   Fixing the reader’s interest from the outset is most important.  Therefore, begin writing with a strong opening paragraph, appropriately captioned.  This approach will capture the reader’s attention and less likely result in reader distraction.  After getting the reader’s attention, the next challenge is to hold it.

The best way to do this is to avoid the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea.  Circumlocution is a fancy word for it, but it’s nothing more than sloppy writing.  Dense, wordy paragraphs and long, rambling, disorganized writing is a sure fire way to cause reader discontent and exasperation. Such writing amounts to pomposity and pomposity in writing, as in speaking, will turn your reader off.  Use familiar words as opposed to the unfamiliar. Write in a conversational and welcoming tone, not stilted or artificial.

In similar fashion, avoid saying the same thing twice.  The needless repetition of a thought in different words is called tautology.  Some very common forms of expression are tautological, such as “perfectly all right,” “many in number,” and “unexpected surprise.”

Be attentive to every word you write. Much of the force of your presentation will spring from its conciseness. Use words judiciously, economically and at a level the reader can understand.  Don’t make the reader grope for a meaning – it may be a meaning not intended by you.  Less is usually more.  Try to accomplish this result by “squeezing” your writing until all needless words have been squeezed out.  Question the need for everything that appears in your writing.  Due diligence on the issue of wordiness will put you squarely on the road to writing concisely.

Patriotism aside, there is no finer example of the power of  concise, effective writing than the following timeless words from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created  equal, that  they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are  instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

 These memorable words, expressing the maximum in political sentiment in the minimum amount of space, the embodiment of powerful but utter simplicity yet profound in their implication, earned Jefferson a well deserved lasting place in American history.

Don’t clutter your writing with excess ideas and language. A skilled writer will never use two words when one will do.  Avoid this pitfall by eliminating superfluous words and using fewer words that have the same meaning.  A strong sentence should contain no unnecessary words for the same reason that a valuable painting contains no unnecessary brush strokes or a modern building contains no unnecessary beams. Alternatively, you can distribute the ideas over several sentences.

The effective use of a simpler word for a longer phrase can be seen in the following examples:

Superfluous words                                Substituted Word

Because of this                                             Accordingly, therefore

Despite the fact that                                    Although

In light of the foregoing                              Therefore

Omitting superfluous words is one of the easiest ways to sharpen your writing because it directly results in concise, more vigorous writing and doesn’t require revision of your sentence structure.  Avoid legalistic appearing words such as aforementioned, hereinafter, whereas, hereby, and whosoever, which sound pompous to a non-lawyer (and even to a lawyer).

Other examples:

                          Before

The following summary is only intended to highlight certain information that may be found elsewhere in this report.

                            After

This summary highlights certain information found elsewhere in this report.

                           Before

This company has filed a tax ruling request with the Internal Revenue Service concerning the possible federal income tax consequences of the distribution to our United States stockholders of XYZ Company stock. It is expected that this distribution will be tax free for federal income tax purposes to U.S. shareholders of this company.

                           After

While we expect that the distribution of stock in the XYZ Company will be tax free to our U.S. stockholders, we have asked the Internal Revenue Service to rule that it is.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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