Matt Knight

My thoughts on faith, books, and life in general

Category Archives: writing

“Writing is Easy…”

Peggy Noonan discusses speech-writing in this piece on her Wall Street Journal Blog.

She discusses the hollow nature of many political speeches in the present era, saying:
“If you try to write ‘good lines’ you’ll likely wind up with strings of dumb, unconnected applause lines. The audience will probably applaud—crowds of supporters are dutiful that way, and people want to be polite—but they’ll know they’re applauding an applause line, not a thought, and they’ll know they’re enacting enthusiasm, not feeling it.”

She has some great thoughts. Read the article here.

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The Obfuscation of Military Writing

Obfuscate–verb
1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy.
2. to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.
3. to darken.

I have recently been doing a good bit of military reading (i.e. reading articles and papers on military topics and with military authors). Every military officer who wishes to advance in their careers is expected to complete what’s known as “Professional Military Education”, involving continuing education classes for each stage of their career.

As I do all this reading, I’m reminded of the need for clarity in our writing. Often writers face the pull of two opposite attractions: the attraction of pedantic (big words that make us sound really smart) or technical language, and attraction of clarity and simplicity. Most of us want to be recognized as smart, and while difficult or complicated vocabulary may make us sound smart, it can fail to connect us with readers. What good is being “smart” if people can’t understand what we’re saying?

In his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell has this to say about clarity:

David Evans…criticized the way the military tends to communicate. Evans illustrated it with the following simple statement and the kinds of revisions that are implemented in the armed services:
1st Draft: A word to the wise is sufficient.
2nd Draft: A word to the wise may be sufficient.
3rd Draft: It is believed that a word to the wise may be sufficient.
4th Draft: It is believed by some that a word to the wise may be sufficient under some conditions.
5th Draft: Indications are that it is believed by some that a word to the wise may be sufficient under some conditions, although this may possibly vary under differing circumstances. This conclusion may not be supportable under detailed analysis and should be used only in a general sense with a full realization of the underlying assumptions.

Maxwell concludes by saying, “In the end, people are persuaded not by what we say, but by what they understand. When you speak clearly and simply, more people can understand what you’re trying to communicate.”

Why is it often harder to be clear than to obfuscate? Do you know people who are difficult to understand? What advice would you have for them?

Better Writing: Action

One of my goals in writing a blog is to improve as a writer; to write things that people will want to read. For the writer, grabbing and holding the reader’s attention is crucial to success. This week I saw some good advice for writers: whether you are writing papers for school, blogs, articles, or books.

When we write, too often we fail to stimulate our readers through our use of verbs. Alvin Reid, writer and professor at Southeastern Seminary offers some insightful thoughts on his blog. His advice for writers begins with a question: “Writers, what IS your problem with verbs?” Reid contends that “is” is not a compelling action word, and that writers can do better.

What advice do you have for writers?

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received about writing?