On Wednesday, Reuters hosted a breakfast event to celebrate the launch of Reuters Editor-at-Large Sir Harold Evans’ latest book, Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters and flesheaters, zombies and predatory clauses were on the agenda.
In front of an audience full of distinguished editors and writers, Reuters Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler kicked the morning off by introducing Evans and his new book. Adler then handed the stage over to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism Dean Steve Coll, who moderated the conversation with Evans.
Asked what inspired him to take on the topic of writing well, Evans said he wrote this book in part because, on the 70th anniversary of Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, he was apoplectic about what he was reading in the papers and noted that “the state of language is worse than when Orwell wrote that.”
In response to a question from Coll about the changing relationship between the written form and other media and what type of writing should therefore be taught, Evans noted that “much of the web is cloudy and verbose,” adding that “you should teach good writing because good thought deserves good writing.”
Other highlights from the discussion include: Evans said that he likes the trend of sentences getting shorter, pointing out that in the 1500s, sentences were 50 or 60 words in length and an average of about 20 today. Evans warned of the predatory clause, which consumes the point, which he likened to running into a building, apologizing for the interruption, rambling on before finally getting to the point – “the building is one fire!” He noted the amount of wasted time and energy reading long memos filled with unnecessary pleonasms and mentioned how a few commonly used phrases could be cut down – ‘take action on the issue’ could be just ‘act’; ‘depreciate in value’ just ‘depreciate’; ‘do on a regular basis’ just ‘regularly.’ “Think of the wasted pixels, the wasted paper!,” he said. Evans said to avoid zombie words, which are “nouns that absorbed a verb and turned it into a dead piece of meat” – authorization, documentation, implementation. Also to be avoided: flesheaters, or unnecessary words and phrases that eat up space. Instead of ‘due to the fact that,’ use ‘because’; use ‘now’ in place of ‘at this point in time.’
Follow more of the discussion by searching #WRDSMATTERBIGLY on Twitter. Learn more about the book https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/harold-evans/do-i-make-myself-clear/9780316432306/ .
Heather dot Carpenter at thomsonreuters dot com
[Reuters PR Blog Post]