The first chapter of Style talks about how similar writing and conversation are. I won’t bore you with the comparisons; they’re overly complicated to try to get a simple point across. Instead, I’ll skip to the three guidelines that writers need to always keep in mind when working their craft.
1) Be Relevant. Give the right information. If your assignment is on birth control methods, then talk about birth control methods; not pregnancy, not falling in love, not fun things to do in bed, unless they directly relate to your topic. It’s easy to be tangential in conversation, but as a writer, you must focus on your message.
2) Measure the Information. Just as it’s easy to go off topic, it’s easy to provide more information than your audience needs. Says Richardson, “we need to match the amount of information to the demands of the situation.” A short article on birth control methods doesn’t need to include the history of the condom or how birth control pills were developed. “Just the facts, ma’am” goes a long way as a writer.
3) Be clear. Clarity is a huge topic of conversation, and you’ll find that many of the style lessons drive home to the point of clarity. As writers, it’s essential that we be as clear as possible, because the finished product has to speak for itself.
Being clear also means avoiding obscurity – or as I like to call it, thesaurus syndrome. Writers love to tend toward the verbose because (they think) it makes them sound more educated. The opposite is actually true, and such wordiness leads to obscuring the real message.
This point is also where many writers get trapped, sometimes eternally, in their career. Richardson explains why:
To write clearly, we have to think carefully about our topic, pay attention to language, and anticipate our audience’s responses, all of which require a good deal of mental and imaginative effort. . . . insisting that our ideas are perfect even though our prose is unclear is like ignoring the difference between a pile of groceries and a well-prepared meal. . . .
Richardson goes on to explain that while it may be irritating to edit our work, doing so helps us find the faults in our writing – which in turn leads to us being able to strengthen our work.
If you are to pull anything away from these “style lessons”, these three points should be it. They’re easy to memorize or make a sticky note of, and help us remember to be introspective toward our own writing. It’s not easy to be an editor, but the hard work always pays off.