Do Not Write As You Speak
To write as you speak can help to capture your thoughts. It can also help to overcome writer’s block. Many consider it the best approach to writing. Yet, a considerable proportion of their readers probably do not find their writing quite as splendid. Alas, writing as you speak can cause disastrous miscommunication. This article makes three arguments against writing as you speak and prescribes the qualities to look for in a professional wordsmith.
1. Good writing is economical.
Generally, we use more words to express ourselves when speaking than we normally would in writing. So, if you write exactly or mostly as if you were speaking, you probably demand more of your readers’ time and patience than necessary — while using more space. Thus, to write as you speak can be uneconomical and tempt your readers to skim.
Writing as if speaking, like serving a cake baked with ingredients not specified in the recipe, often introduces distractions from the preferred reading experience that would take the reader more directly to clear understanding. These distractions might escape the writer's attention as potential distractions because they reflect the writer's own thinking. In contrast, a professional wordsmith would craft the message with the awareness that communicating effectively in writing depends on economical use of well-chosen words.
2. Good writing is crafted for readers.
When we speak to listeners, we use inflections of voice to communicate effectively. When speaking in person directly to listeners, we generally include gestures and in-the-moment responses to listener feedback also. Yet, when you write what you would speak to a listener, you communicate just the words — words chosen without the guidance possible in direct speaker-to-listener interaction; with no way to capture inflections of voice, pauses, or gestures. Information loss occurs.
This information loss could make your writing unnecessarily difficult for your readers to follow — especially readers who do not know you well enough personally to imagine your characteristic voice inflections and body language as they read. Writing as you speak thus yields incomplete communication that leaves the reader to compensate for missing interpretive support. This can cause misunderstanding.
Writing as if speaking introduces layers of hindrance to complete communication and thus to complete understanding among readers. A professional wordsmith would craft the message with awareness that communicating in writing depends on the words read.
3. Good writing serves a diverse readership.
Your individuality affects the choices you make as a speaker and as a writer, as well as your needs as a reader. Most people most of the time lack awareness of the extent of these idiosyncratic influences. Still, they limit a writer's effectiveness in ways that a self-aware expert wordsmith can address.
When we speak, we reflect our individual cognitive (thinking and learning) tendency or style. Four basic cognitive styles:
Consequently, when you write as you speak, you could have only a 25% chance of communicating in sync with any given reader’s cognitive style. Writing as you speak might not serve best your readers who do not share your cognitive style — possibly a large portion of them.
Not only does every person tend to one of these four basic cognitive styles, but each of us also has other tendencies for processing information. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test indicates 16 different personality types. Even if you know your own MBTI type, do you also know how to accommodate all sixteen types at once?
Likewise, Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) identifies and ranks four ways in which all of us process information:
NLP testing can reveal your ranking of the four information processing styles, just as MBTI testing can identify yours among 16 personality types. Every individual also tends to one of the four cognitive styles noted above. These are but three ways to identify how we choose to present information to others and how we prefer information presented to us.
Every person can introduce their own individual biases when speaking and when writing to others. Not mitigating these — most often because they remain invisible as biases to the person communicating — can leave one wondering why others do not understand as intended.
Except for people who have the self-awareness that such testing facilitates and who pay attention to how their individuality affects their writing, these biases remain invisible to most people most of the time. Personal idiosyncrasies limit the effectiveness of anybody's writing, more or less with each reader according to how much or how little the reader shares them. Writing as you speak exaggerates these limitations.
When you write to somebody who knows you well or who happens to share your information-processing tendencies, writing as you speak could serve you well. However, when you must communicate important information effectively to more and various readers, your chances of communicating effectively decline sharply if you write as you speak.
A professional wordsmith not only self-aware but also expert at accommodating a diverse readership can minimize the risks of miscommunication caused by unnoticed personal bias and serve readers more effectively.
tip: Get a wordsmith who approaches writing as a skilled craft.
- Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.
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