Write Clearly – Write to be Read

Recently, I have been laboring through some Vermont Agency of Education policy. I am trying to understand the current policy that guides our schools. The word “guide” is the wrong verb. I think of guidance as being clear and pointing the way, a “pathfinder” so to speak (a little self-promotion here).

I have read so much policy coming out of state agencies that always appears to have been written for the person in the cubicle next to the person doing the writing – and not written for public consumption.

I find this kind of bureaucratic writing very frustrating. It is so often not written clearly and not written to be read and understood by the intended audience.

We seem obsessed in the government bureaucracy and with those given the opportunity to write policy to make changes to existing programs, often complete overhauls when just some tinkering around the edges is all that is needed. I wonder if there is a determination to make some sort of mark meaning drastic change, and then move on.

I have often reminded those in the position of leadership, “Be careful what you build.” As you might expect, I am sometimes at odds with leadership, especially when I add the caution, “Set the table first, build receptivity.”

Oh well, I need to return to my original purpose here, “write clearly, write to be read.” Many years ago, I wrote this to remind myself of what writing is all about: “The writer’s job is to help the reader understand his story.” This seems to be lost on so many with access to a keyboard.

I read an excellent book on writing by William Zinsser (On Writing Well, 1976). I will also suggest an older favorite writing reference, William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, 1959. I was first introduced to The Elements of Style as a freshman at UVM in 1969. It was on my required purchase list for an English class. I have long wondered why I was not introduced to this little writing book back in high school. It still sits on my desk today and is often referred to.

White and Strunk preached clarity. William Zinsser also urged clarity:

But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.” (William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976, pg. 7).

Clear thinking becomes clear writing.” (Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976, pg. 9).

Writers must constantly ask: What am I trying to say?” (Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976, pg. 12).

Sorry, I am on a bit of a rant here. I want good writing, especially writing that is disseminated from state agencies for public consumption and understanding.

Good writing is written for the reader to be read and understood.

Take care,

Ed Pirie

Published by Ed Pirie

I am a native Vermonter. I am a child of the 50s, 1951 to be exact. For much of my youth Vermont had one foot in the 19th century and one in the 20th century. The old ways coexisted with a world that was changing. We were sort of insulated in Vermont from much that was happening outside our state, but our little protective bubble was shrinking. My understanding of today has been greatly influenced by the past as the past was always part of our present in the Vermont of the 1950s and even the 60s. I am not much of a follower and like to do my own thinking. You will find my thoughts on many topics here. I value my family and a quiet existence in a very rural part of Vermont. I try to write clearly and simply. I hope you enjoy and thank you for visiting my site. Take care.

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