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Writing’s Greatest Disease: Clutter

September 23, 2009

I’ve intentionally attempted to diversify my reading recently, spending time reading works of business, fiction, and education along with the regular theology books. On Writing Well is one of these books that I’m enjoying at the moment. In its early pages it states:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unncecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon… the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every wod that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these thousand and are the the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.

– On Writing Well, 6-7

I love that last sentence. I used to think that if something was too complicated for me to understand when I read (much of my undergraduate religious studies reading comes to mind) then I had a problem. I’m realizing that being verbose doesn’t equate intelligence, and complicated sentences deserve more indictment on an author than praise. 

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that you haven’t truly mastered anything until you are able to articulate it to a child in elementary school. Amen. It’s not necessarily the scholar who writes thousand-page books that is brilliant, but rather he who is able to communicate the same material in a hundred pages.

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