The Importance of Writing Clearly

Effective writing skills are important.  From time to time, I make spelling mistakes.  Grammar mistakes, too.  Especially when I’m in a rush to post an entry or send an email, I don’t spend nearly enough time reviewing and revising my words.

But there are times when I think such effort is crucial if you want to be taken seriously.  If for no other reason than to make your point clearly, taking the time to consider, review and edit your writing will yield many benefits.

This week I was exposed to two examples of why poor writing weakens your argument and causes others to not take you seriously.


The first example came from work.  Someone submitted an email from a personal email address to an internal company address that perhaps they thought would not be monitored.  The letter was so unclear and unfocussed that it was brought to the attention of my division’s VP, who took the time to respond and ask for clarification.

Here’s the text of the email.  “Huddles” are a type of daily team-building training session, about 10 minutes in length, that our employees conduct.

Huddle notes. What are we, high school 15 year olds. But then again for what [our] employees are paid has a lot to do with the quality of people you attract. They have been re-hashed, re-worked and repeated. Micro-Managing is old and tiresome. I would no more give someone who gets a livable wage the next idea for a huddle through a note or comment I may or may not make.

What in the world is this person trying to communicate?  The VP’s eloquent response conveyed a sincere desire to understand what, exactly, the person was concerned about.  Being provided with the opportunity to share suggestions?  Having a document on which he or she could take notes about the training?  The quality of employees we hire?  The amount we pay them?

Hopefully, the employee will respond to the VP’s email with more information.  My suspicion is that the person didn’t expect to ever receive a response and, when asked to articulate him/herself more clearly, will scurry into the shadows of anonymity.

What a shame, though.  There is obviously something bothering that employee, but his/her inability to clearly articulate it will hamper our efforts to address the concern.


The second example came from a friend who shared his frustration at Kenneth Starr’s role in persuading the California Supreme Court to overturn the 18,000 same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state.  In an online comment board, the friend wrote the following:

Which constitutional rights should you lose simply because you are heterosexual?  As a honest taxing paying citizen, what right am I entitled to revoke yours.  Are you doing this for money?  You can’t take it with you.  Fame?  same sex marriage will happen soon or later…like it or not… very soon, in history, you will be remembered as one of most hated person.  why you are doing this?  you will regret so much in your death bed knowing how many hearts you have broken & how many people wish you, your family and anyone relate to you go to hell (i am atheist and don’t believe in hell).  you are good at what you do as an attorney(prostitute)-for-hire & put your skills to good use.  so many things come & go in life…one thing has & always will remain the same…how love make people feel.  anyone with heart knows this.  do you have a heart?  I know my love as much as you know your love.  Don’t judge your daughter/son & granddaughter/son’s love.  There are less days you’ll live compare to the days you lived.  Do yourself a good deed while you are a human being.  Don’t wait till you return to earth as a handful of fertilizer…than you’d would be no different from the worst criminal you’d know.

His passion is very clear but I think the power of that passion is lost when the message delivered is so unclearly articulated.  It isn’t the spelling or grammar errors – those are understandable.  It is just the way that so many disjointed ideas are crammed together in a single paragraph, running into each other in a stream-of-consciousness way.

The sad truth is, it isn’t a statement that’s going to persuade anyone to change their views about same-sex marriage.  It isn’t going to cause an experienced lawyer (Starr) to sit back and reconsider his position.  If anything, it makes the argument in favor of same-sex marriage look weaker because it makes us look like a bunch of people who can’t even express ourselves clearly.


It is important for us to be passionate and to express those passions.  But I think the passion is most effectively channeled when we can express it in a way that moves others to understand and hopefully support our views.


0 thoughts on “The Importance of Writing Clearly

  1. I agree with you on the need to have an effective communication skill. However, I disagree with your observation that one or two ineffective comments will weaken the strength of an larger argument or make us look like a bunch of fools.

  2. Tell you a secret. I make it a habbit to check most of the sentences I have written. I look up the dictionary even though I have known the word already. I compare my sentence with the example sentence from the dictionary. I modified my sentence wherever appropriate.

  3. If I don’t use proper spelling or grammar, I know that other people will notice. I always notice even the littlest mistakes when receiving emails at work with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. We had one secretary in our office (she’s gone now) who sent out emails to people like my boss’ boss with all sorts of errors. It became embarrassing for the officeif i send a email that look lyk dis, whose gonna take me siriously!Absolutely no one.

  4. i dont know what the porblem is with you grammer nazis always going aruond bashing other peoples writing when you know you know you make a mistake sometime too and really you shouldnt be out there calling other peoples mistake cause that makes you a hipcrit and mean too

  5. I make horrible mistakes quite often, especially in my blog. I really don’t force perfection here, this is kinda where i come to kick my shoes off. However i am not very good at spelling and grammar. Its one of my biggest weaknesses.

  6. Oh dear….I think this is an issue that we all face. I feel short of time whenever I’m online, constantly thinking that I should be off the computer and outside (okay…at the gym…but that requires me to go outside first). And you are definitely correct about how we should be critical about our communication skills when it comes to our work environment. I know I have made errors in emails at work before, but I at least avoid putting happy faces in my text (yes, it’s happened…).

  7. Ahh… I’m not a perfect wordsmith but I do appreciate a well crafted sentence. I work with a lot of techies and it’s sad that a lot of them cannot articulate their thoughts. They get frustrated because they don’t feel their ideas are being heard.

  8. @Wangium – @socaltransplant – Need some stones?  =)
    @tjordanm – Funny response.  Of course, as I pointed out in the first paragraph of my entry, I make mistakes, too.  My point was that when people are trying to express their points of view about something, taking the time to make sure the message is clear makes it so much easier for others to understand those points of view.
    @Dezinerdreams – If it doesn’t weaken the argument, it certainly makes it much harder to follow.  Using the first example as a case in point, the poorly-written email leaves us scratching our heads as to what, exactly, the concern is.  We can’t help fix the situation if we don’t know what the problem is.
    @stevew918 – I’d suggest that both intent and presentation count.  Passion without clear articulation makes it hard to stir anyone to your cause.
    @choyshinglin – And as a result, your entries are always so beautifully crafted.
    @yang1815 – No way to know the nationality but the employees are in the US and Canada, so probably not.
    @TheCheshireGrins – Very good example!
    @CiaoBella810 – Certainly we write our blogs as a space of personal reflection, not an essay that is being prepared for professional publication.  In both these examples, though, the writer put his/her words into the public sphere in order to express concern, to set things right, and presumably to get others to see their points of view.  Much harder to do when the writing is unclear.  One thing I really enjoy about your blog entries is that you articulate your thoughts so clearly.
    @kenpcho – @chrispycrunch – Your entries are fine example of clear articulation, that’s why I enjoy reading them so much.
    @ElusiveWords – That gets to the heart of the matter, Matt.  When we can’t articulate ourselves clearly we can get frustrated, fealing like we aren’t being heard or understood.

  9. aww man thanks. That made my day…haha. I almost always have people read and re-read anything that i have to send off or i know that it will be necessary for it to be easy to read.

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