In which I wax philosophical

rogersgeorge on November 6th, 2011

I often post about removing extra verbiage from your writing. No one has mentioned it, so I will: If you take everything out, you end up with plain, non-conversational, maybe boring prose.

That’s correct. I approve of writing that’s not awash with waves of superfluous locutions.

My goal is to teach you how to write prose that nobody pays attention to. You want them to think about the subject, not about you, not about the writing. Do not to distract your reader.

“But what fun is that?” you ask. “How will they identify with me as a fellow human?” “Don’t I want my reader to feel connected with me?”

You have a point. Under some circumstances you want your reader to think about you, to get a feeling of conversation, fellowship, company. Here is the philosophical question—When do you want these things? Unlike Plato, I’ll tell you straight out:

Plato in conversation

Think about your readership and the document you are writing. If it’s expository and all business, go for plain. If your writing is supposed to be entertaining, such as a blog, an editorial, a novel, a poem, a love letter, then those extra words that add atmosphere and flavor are appropriate. That’s why you occasionally see a conversational tone in this site. However, I make a conscious effort never to waste my words—I want to be a good example; you won’t find me breaking my own rules very often, and I always do it on purpose.

Be friendly when you need to be, but don’t go overboard.

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