It's fascinating, isn't it, that we so often rail against the decline of the English language; while many of us would certainly agree that the advent of texting and other language "shortcuts" has resulted in our inability to clearly relay our thoughts, this kind of lament has been going on for decades.
In 1946, George Orwell (yes, he of Animal Farm fame) wrote the essay "Politics and the English Language." In this, Orwell says that "[m]odern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble." He then goes on to discuss several writing issues that could be avoided if writers would "take the necessary trouble." We'll discuss these in other blogs.
A primary point of the essay is that the decline of the English language isn't simply because we imitate the language of those around us, but rather, how we use language is a direct reflection of our ability to think. When we use "lazy" language or don't take the time to consider what words best reflect our ideas, we appear lazy and/or unconcerned about what others think about us, our work, and our professionalism. As Orwell suggests, "It [the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
I would also proffer that the decline can also be attributed to the "bad influence of this or that individual..." In fact, we often see professionals in many workplaces using old reports or the reports that others have written to write their report. While there's nothing inherently incorrect about this, the problem is that when writers do this, they often do not take the time to consider the appropriateness of the document for their situation. In short, this is a "one-size-fits-all" mentality that we call "modeling." The result is often a document that doesn't accurately reflect the professionalism of either the writer or the organization for which she works.
We cannot, nor should we, separate our thoughts and ideas from the language we use to convey those thoughts and ideas. In short, we should care about the words we use and how we use those words; we should take the time to plan our documents and the words we will use to best relay our ideas. Too often (and we see this quite often in the workplace documents we analyze), professionals write reports, emails, and other documents in the same way all the time; that is, they don't consider what words they're using and how those words might be perceived by their readers.
As I've suggested in other blogs, thinking critically about your document, which includes careful consideration of your words, is crucial. When we take the time to do this, the reader benefits, of course, but writers do as well: their documents are more likely to be read, readers will have fewer questions, and it's quite possible that reviewers and editors will ask for fewer revisions.
One way to ensure that your ideas are conveyed as you wish them to be is to plan the document. Planning is a vital component of writing and a task that many professionals don't do, either because they feel it's too time-consuming (if you have the right tools, planning actually helps you streamline the writing process) or they don't know how. But just as planning a vacation can ensure we see all the sights we want to, planning a document better ensures readability and that our readers won't rail against the slovenliness of our document!
If your staff needs tools to help them write crisp, clear documents that reflect positively on them and their business, we can help! Our classes result in long-term, positive solutions. Contact us today!