Clear, Concise, Writing

I immediately thought of the exact same thing:

I can’t tell you what’s going to happen to his blockbuster complaint about the president’s behavior, but I can tell you that the whistle-blower’s college writing instructor would be very proud of him.

As a writing instructor myself for 20 years, I look at the complaint and see a model of clear writing that offers important lessons for aspiring writers.

via NYTimes

As a writer myself and as someone who writes more than any other single (professional) habit, I feel as if I have a somewhat decent sense of what is objectively good and bad writing (I also read a ton).

Ironically, this doesn’t make me a better writer myself, but, I’m going to continue to slowly build up the quality over time through nothing more than simple repetition.

And, learning from the best.

Jane Rosenzweig is the director of the Writing Center at Harvard and here’s what she had to say about the document:

  1. The whistleblower gets right to the point
  2. The whistle-blower uses subheadings to make sure we can connect the dots
  3. The whistle-blower gets an A for his topic sentences
  4. The whistle-blower uses active verbs

I do appreciate all of these tips except that I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between active and passive verbs (or at least I don’t intentionally think about this while I write) — I’ll need to practice that a bit more now.

I agree with this final few statements but I disagree with the last sentence in the article, which, usually is a banger:

Every semester, I encounter students who tell me variously that they hate writing, that they’d rather not write, that for the careers they aspire to they won’t need to write. I explain that no matter what careers they choose, they will have to write — reports, strategic plans, proposals and, if nothing else, many, many emails.

But I also tell them that learning to write matters because some day they may have something to say that really matters to them and possibly to the world — and they will want to convey it when the moment arrives in writing that’s clear and concise.

May they never have to blow the whistle. But in case they do, by studying the whistle-blower’s complaint, they’ll be a bit more prepared to write their own.

Yes, yes, and… no.

The only way that anyone of us is going to get better at writing is if we intentionally practice in an effort to get better.

Most people will write hundreds of thousands of emails in their life but no one would be able to distinguish some of their earlier emails to their later ones, at least in terms of quality of writing unless they are intentionally working to make themselves write and communicate more effectively.

And studying someone else’s writing is useful… but not nearly as useful as writing oneself. So, if you want to get better at writing… you should just write more… and intentionally review your writing with others for critique, perspective, and betterment.

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