We write what we read

To some extent, what we read shapes the way we write.

If you read enough clear, concise writing, you are likely to adopt such a style yourself.  You may not succeed entirely.  But your reader will certainly feel the influence.  On the other hand, if you spend your day reading abbreviated text speak, that too is likely to influence your style.

A major influence on people’s prose style over the past 30 or 40 years has been the newspapers they read.

As a general rule, the broadsheets have tended to make a clear distinction between fact and opinion.  Tabloids, on the other hand, have tended to present opinion dressed up as (sensational) fact.

There is also a significant difference in the vocabularies required to read and comprehend the different styles of newspapers.

But over the past few years, as the variety of media has expanded, the gap between broadsheets and tabloids has narrowed.  Tabloids, competing with 24/7 TV news and the internet, have become even more tabloid.  And many of the traditional broadsheets have joined them.

Today, both styles of newspaper tend to go for attention-grabbing headlines that may or may not have much to do with the story that follows.  Both have become careless with words, mixing up alternate and alternative, expect and anticipate, prevaricate and procrastinate  (to list but a few).  And both tend to mix fact with opinion – without making it clear to the reader which is which.

So it is perhaps not surprising that much of today’s business writing also lacks style and clarity.

Maybe it’s time for business executives to revisit the classics of English literature.

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