clump cartoon
Cartoon: Lee Lorenz, New Yorker Magazine

One of the main reasons people maintain blogs is to learn to write better. We gauge our success by:

  • The number of hits, comments and mentions of our posts in other blogs
  • The number of smiles, aha!s and frowns we elicit from dispassionately re-reading our own work
  • The value our posts impart to readers: information, insight, synthesis, novelty, persuasiveness, emotional impact and entertainment 
  • The content of the writing, and the clarity and precision with which it is presented.

A comment I have received several times is that my writing is too ‘dense’. That is, my posts are too long-winded and rambling, and my sentences are too long and convoluted. This is fair criticism. Complexity is often the enemy of brevity and conciseness. But excess verbiage and unfathomable prose can also indicate fuzzy thinking or laziness. In business, you learn that improvements can only occur if you recognize and articulate the problem, and then design, assess and follow actions to address it.

So it is in the business of writing. And in blogging, you have ample chance to practice improving your writing skills. You run the risk, if you do not do so, of entrenching bad habits. So if your writing is too dense, you should:

  1. Monitor and reduce the number of words per sentence in your posts
  2. Eliminate obscure, ambiguous, pretentious, trite, hyperbolic and wordy text
  3. Select words more carefully and imaginatively
  4. Avoid words that few people understand, and use simpler words whenever possible
  5. Avoid tortuous sentence construction
  6. Study how to use punctuation effectively, correctly, and sparingly
  7. Remember that often in writing, more is less, less is more
  8. Read ten times as much as you write, and study how others avoid excessive density

If instead of being dense, your writing suffers some other frailty, such as being vapid, or anemic, or turgid, or strained, simply amend the above steps appropriately. When you no longer need to improve, we’ll tell you.

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Using Weblogs and Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to WRITING BETTER

  1. Adrian says:

    Sound advice, which I’ve taken to heart — however, as a frequent reader of your blog, I’d add that not all insightful or well-written posts elicit comment. A reader may simply not have enough knowledge about a topic to respond wisely — and may thus read the post with curiosity, yet not want to chime in.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks. I agree absolutely. I just didn’t know how to make this point clearly and concisely ;-)This applies especially to creative and humorous posts, including fiction and satire, e.g. I read Pesky the Rats blog regularly, but almost never comment.

  3. I’d add that it’s not just a matter of prose style, but of ability to organize thoughts in a coherent storyline. Sometimes clarity can emerge from a well-organized pile of muddy sentences. Rarely will the best writing rescue an idea that has not been properly thought-out.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Rob: Rarely will the best writing rescue an idea that has not been properly thought-out.…except perhaps ideas in the mind of the reader. When I read Gould’s Full House or Quinn’s Story of B I found their writing crystallized some ideas that had been nascent and latent but ill-formed in my own mind. The result was a complete change in the way I looked at the world. Oh, to be able to write that well…

  5. “(…) my posts are too long-winded and ambling, and my sentences are too long and convoluted. This is fair criticism”.I don’t think you should say “fair”. Blog writting is kinda “genre” : as with every media, message as to be adapted to fit in. That is, blogging “trend” tend to restrict post to a one-screen long post with links to longer information and direct, hi-concept topic.TV speaker, Radio speaker, journalist and novelist don’t communicate the same way with the very same subject(as a matter of fact my list start with the shallow discursive communication toward more elaborate ones).That said, this is only common “expectation” as for every genre (Film noir, mystery novel, soap opera, etc), thanksfully we have room to be “deviant” (if not, you wouldn’t be as interessant, Dave). As a matter of fact, your blogging style is more like document/white paper/short essays style than what I call “blog genre”.

Comments are closed.