Monday, May 08, 2006

Style Summary 10

Lesson 10: The Ethics of Style

Stylistic attributes can create pleasing effects, but accuracy can be jeopardized when one's prose departs too far from the subject. On the other hand, an over abundance and anal attention to accuracy can jeopardize the writing in an entirely different way--in making it something that no one wants to read. Thus, Williams reviews a general rule that he identifies as one in keeping with the habits of responsible writers:

"Write to others as you have have other write to you."

It's a a golden rule of writing, so to speak. Unintended obscurity can occur if we, the writers, loose touch with what it is to be a reader--specifically a reader of our work. If we don't pay attention to what our writing looks like to the reader, we fall prey to unintended obscurity. Intended misdirection, however, is a more serious crime. When the writer purposely uses language in intentionally obfuscating ways, to either cover for a lack of understanding or to purposely confuse the reader into missing pertinent details.

When writers claim, though, that their style must be convoluted and complex because their ideas are accordingly complex, they are, states Williams, more often wrong than right, and that they are likely falling prey to the faults mentioned previously.

Our style reflects our purpose, and our purposes are shaped by our intention. Our writing tells the reader more than the words we put down on paper--the manner in which we lay them down communicates our ideas, our intentions, our opinions, and our purpose. Even the most lazy reader will recognize heavy-handed guile, and most readers will resent being led-around by the nose. Communicating our intention is no crime, but deliberately confusing the reader is.

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