Fay Weldon

Photo credit: Bella West

Even in our digital age, the written word retains its power and glory – the power to analyse, propose, persuade, and sell; the glory of narrative to delight, move, charm and enthuse. An emoji can always be useful, but first comes the written word.

But can everyone write effectively? Sadly, no. Because the same word ‘write’ applies to the toddler learning its letters and the teenager struggling with grand-mum’s thank-you letter, as to the executive firing off his emails and the author wrestling with his adult novel, the very word ‘write’ gets misunderstood. Being able to ‘write’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you can handle the written word with due respect to the people who are going to read it and need to make sense of it. It’s a skill which can be learned but for which all too many need to train.

The instruction leaflet that comes with the microwave can be a mystery, the form from the Council baffling, the promotional booklet dull and has left out opening times. We are inundated with careless writing. Take a look at what comes through your letterbox. First class stamp and it’s at least (usually) brief and to the point, but second class stamp – well – not necessarily so. Leaflets are cheap and badly designed, ads are confusing and fail to sell. Mostly they get chucked in the bin unread – and that’s a waste of time, not to mention the resources of the planet.

A little more thought, time and attention, a good typographer and a good writer could salvage much of what is now thrown away. I’d suggest that one trained writer is worth every penny of the investment required. The first rule, as any trained advertising copywriter will tell you, is to be as concise as can be in the space allowed. It’s a busy world. Time is short.

True, that in this overworked digital age, the more we try to communicate the more difficult it seems to get. The leaflet through the letter box fails to make its point. At the other end of the scale, work jargon too easily takes the place of simple communication. A day on the laptop in the business world can be exhausting – jargon floods in unchecked. Trying to make sense of exactly what the writer is trying to say takes time and energy. All too easy to respond in the same mode, and thus compound the problem.

To write with clarity, brevity and to the point is to give the word its full power. To value, protect and preserve the written word is to allow it its full glory. It’s a vital job for all of us – publishers, academics, leaders, politicians, and authors – but one which has to be done if we’re to meet the challenges of the digital age. Alone we can’t do it; together we can!

Fay Weldon

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