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The Purpose of Writing – http://wp.me/p69zqd-1y

The purpose of writing has always been for the writer to convey a message to the reader, but I think this escapes many writers today. The majority of writing is not focused on what it says rather how it says it. Many political writers will spice up their writing with sophisticated language and complex terminology to attract the higher educated crowd.

The most obvious problem with this is that you’d be ignoring the main audience of the piece, which happens to be the largest demographic. If the average person reads a piece with a needlessly large and obscure vocabulary then he may conclude that the writing serves no purpose for him, then he will shy away from all writing like it. If you write for the every day person not only will you have a larger audience, what you write will be more effective.

Orwell said it better than I ever could in his essay Politics in the English Language. He analyzes many things about political writing, such as how writers will purposefully blur their meaning for a political purpose. For instance Orwell says:

“Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements

A powerful passage. The essay goes on with more detailed examples. The first thing any reader needs to understand political writing is to educate themselves on rhetoric and the devices writers use. By doing this you can defend yourself from false and overtly biased statements in the media. We can see in the quote that effectiveness is not a substitute for honesty. The phrases writers use may be easy to understand but they don’t serve the best interest of the people if their meaning is hidden.

Obviously if a person has to sugar coat their meaning they are afraid of the reaction. So what would writing look like if it was as candid as possible? Take for instance the famous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.  In 1972 he was hired by Rolling Stone to cover the presidential campaign of George McGovern, and in the process he revolutionized the way political writing was done. He was a brutally honest writer, never even attempting to conceal his meaning. Here’s a quote of his about Nixon’s funeral:

“If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”

Of course that quote is nothing but name calling, but Thompson makes many great points about it. There is nothing dry about his writing, it’s candid as all hell and gets the point across. A modern political writer may say “Nixon was a heartless autocrat that left an enervating stain on the country that can never be cleansed. His legacy will be one of deceit and crookedness that reminds the people of a darker time in our nation’s history.” Both quotes say pretty much the same thing but the first one was much more entertaining and can be more easily consumed.

The simpleness of writing applies to all of it’s forms. If a book is so full of pretensions and complications that it is difficult to read then why read it? The author failed in the purpose to smoothly convey their message to all people. Instead they are keeping the knowledge for the highly educated and serves no purpose for the common man. Orwell mastered this art. It also has historical background. Take Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Part of the influence of this pamphlet is that it was easy for the common man to read and therefore the ideas spread more easily than the other pamphlets of the day. In fact Washington had it read to every man in his army, which considering the condition of the day is significant. Paine’s writing was honest and to the point. This document encouraged the Americas to rebel against England and succeeded, something a more frivolous document couldn’t have done.

So when writing Orwell gives a list of things that every writer should consider about each sentence:

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

These are things every writer should keep in mind when writing a piece. Purposefully making your writing sound sophisticated does nothing except guarantee most people won’t read it. There is nothing wrong with sounding simplistic. People forget that education is not only meant for the higher classes, but that ideas are meant for all people of the earth. The point is not to shy people away from your message but to spread it. More messages should be written as so. Honesty and clearness are the true traits of effective writing.

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