Style -- Why can you not come to the point?
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
by Anthony Dunn
Why can you not come to the point (and by this I mean the "point of the argument") rather than take us on an around the houses meander (that is, you tend to wander away from the main point thereby requiring your reader to maintain several lines of argument at the same time) with a series of asides that, if you were to structure your prose, you would be able to incorporate into the main body of the piece. I am afraid to have to say that reading your prose is close to torture. A suggestion: get onto the Economist newspaper website and order the Economist style book which explains how to write succinctly and pithily.
[Reference: 5 November 2006 Commentary "BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: YOU MIGHT JUST GET IT! Notes on a battle no one will really win but which, nevertheless, well sets up the much bigger Battle two years hence" - Ed]
Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:
For the most part, and ever since 'The Green Papers' first went online now more than seven years ago, I have gotten more positive than negative comments about my alleged (ahem!) "writing style" for 'The Green Papers' and what negative comments I have gotten have generally been more along the lines of good-natured ribbing. Put succinctly (if not also pithily), it appears that most users of this website who read my stuff somehow deal with said "style" of mine.
This style, such as it is, is- in the main- quite purposeful. First of all, it is intended to be essentially conversational in tone, despite the fact that my writings are- in reality- a monologue. Whenever I get together with friends and/or family, we tend to speak much as I write on this site- exchanging information filled with verbal parentheticals and various and sundry meanderings [such as "my sister-in-law (she's the one who gave birth to my nieces and nephews- you might remember I told you guys, a couple months ago, that she...)" etc. etc. before I then go and tell the hearers just what my sister-in-law did or was doing]: my writing is intended to evoke something along the lines of just such a spirit (though whether it successfully does so or not is, of course, left to the judgment of the individual reader).
Secondly, it has been my personal observation and experience over the years- where not also decades- that there are two different- yet intertwined- ways to get people to remember the things one has written: one is to maintain a sense of humor (and not be at all afraid to actually be humorous, hence the reason for at least a few of my asides) and the other is to give them a lot of meat on them there bones! Yes, 'tis true I often make the reader work- if not also sweat- to get my point, but "field testing" over time has shown me that a person recalls far more about what I have written than if I had not done so. Succinct and pithy is nice, but then so is elevator music-- listening to, say, an entire piece by Gustav Mahler takes a bit more effort!
Finally, you didn't say whether you were "tortured" by my most recent Commentary or some other piece of mine or even by my writings in general, but I will note that most of what I write deals with issues that are altogether complex, yet still tend to be- in the usual public arenas- reduced to the proverbial 15-second or 30-second sound bite (whether it be done the politician or the commentator) with all the attendant simplicism that so easily results therefrom. *I*, however, am not going to automatically assume my potential audience has but the attention span of a 3-year-old and play that particular "game": in other words, I have never ever assumed that the reader can't maintain several lines of argument at the same time!
Yet, at the same time, I also can't possibly know just how much the reader might actually know about the more arcane aspects of American Constitutional Law or election law or, for that matter, Middle East geopolitics: thus, I try to provide as much information as is practicable so to do about why I might think whatever it is that I think and, ofttimes, I do go off on many a tangent (if not also a segue or two) but only in the interest of trying to be as fair as I can be to that which backs up my position, or even alternative "devil's advocate" concepts, while still forcibly making my case and, through it all, somehow not at all insulting the intelligence of the reader. In other words, my asides/meanderings are intended as 'I think you should know this so you can clearly see where I'm coming from' and not 'I think you need to know this because, otherwise, you are still so stupid'.
In the end, however, it is MY "style". It works for me and I have gotten plenty of email showing that the vast majority of people reading it can actually follow what I am saying (however much they might well chuckle and snicker behind my back at how I might say it). I don't write (and never have written) for the Economist, likely never will and, therefore, have no real interest in just what their style might be: I do care about the content of 'The Green Papers'-- but that is all I care about in this regard. Function before Form, I say.
If, however, you maintain that reading my prose is, indeed, "close to torture", then- please- by all means, don't do it ! After all, I wouldn't want anyone to actually get hurt out there.
Let's all keep Cyberspace and the global village that is the Internet safe! ;-)