By Sandra Young
On a crisp cold day in January I found myself trekking past Linford Wood towards the ITI offices for the “Writing with Clarity and Impact” workshop to kick off 2015. The workshop was given by Piers Alder, professional copywriter and professional development consultant, and has given me something to really sink my teeth into while working towards my CPD goals for this year.
The workshop, as the name suggests, looked at how to write clearly for maximum impact. While there was some focus on marketing copywriting, it mainly looked at the techniques used in this sector and how we can apply these to any writing that we do.
Here are some of the things we looked at:
Positive and negative wording – when possible use words that inspire people, not that dissuade them. Rather than saying that something will be ‘difficult’ it might be better to say ‘we will try’.
Nominalisation – many romance languages prefer nominalisation. In English this can be cumbersome and detaches the reader. Using verbs, on the other hand, engages the reader and makes them feel involved in the text.
Clichés – overuse of familiar turns of phrase can grate on the reader. You can engage a reader by giving an unusual twist to a common saying.
Shorter is better – you might think that using elaborate vocabulary makes you sound sophisticated. This is not necessarily the case. Communication is paramount. Be clear. This in English often means that shorter words of Anglo-Saxon origin are more effective than words derived from Latin.
Overall, I found the day to be stimulating and thought-provoking. It was packed full of activities to keep us fully engaged, which also gave us the chance to apply the techniques we had learned. I work primarily with medical and technical texts, and you can get carried away with “fitting with the norm” as regards standard phrasing and structures, so this workshop served to really make me think about how some of these structures come across, and how they can actually obscure meaning. That said, it’s important to be able to distinguish between necessary subject-specific language and language which can be used to make the text more readable. Something to speak with clients about!
How do I think this will impact my work? I realise that every genre has its specific style, jargon and register, and in many cases we must adhere to these norms. However, we cannot just blindly follow them as this leads to language stagnation. The workshop reminded me of the importance of looking at a text and asking myself, “What are they actually saying here?” This will help me to write more clearly in future and to ensure that the message being conveyed is clear to the target readership. Doing this will also provide me with some discussion points for clients, and will perhaps enable me to contribute to better writing tendencies in my fields of work.
I’ll round off with an exercise that we did at the workshop. We had to come up with 6 word stories, such as the famous Hemingway one – “For sale: baby’s boots, never worn.”
Piers gave us a few minutes to have a try. The one I came up with was:
Clean hands hide a bloody past.
Have a go and send us yours!