By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor
English is hard enough. However, when folks abroad mess it up, it can have hilarious results.
A sign at a Paris hotel read: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”
In Bangkok, a dry cleaners directed customers to “drop your trousers here for best results.”
And a Copenhagen airline ticket office promised: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
Is your writing getting “lost in translation”? Are you conveying your message in the clearest possible terms?
I’ve developed the “3 B’s of Better Writing” to help ensure your writing will be understood and appreciated.
1. Be brief. In a world of tweets, our attention span is shrinking. Write short. Try to limit your sentences to 10-15 words and your paragraphs to two or three sentences. Identify your core messages and stick to them.
2. Be clear. Clarity comes with good planning and organization. Write a rough outline before you begin writing. I like to scratch mine out on notebook paper. Simply list your key words or central ideas in bullet points. Think of your outline as made of clay, not stone. Shape and reshape your outline as you write the first and subsequent drafts of your piece.
3. Be compelling. Make your reader sit up and take notice. Draw him into your message. Write in a way that will command attention. As author Anton Chekhov urged, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Plain language should be your goal.
As Professor Robert Eagleson, an internationally famed linguist, writes so convincingly:
“Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction….Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language.”
Use plain English, writing briefly, clearly and compellingly. It will pay off and reduce your risk of getting lost in translation!