The core of freelance writing is communication. It’s a simple brief. We take facts, thoughts, opinions, and we convey them to our readership as effectively as possible. Depending on our task, we use a variety of skills to accomplish our goal, but the through line is always communication. A piece of freelance writing fails the moment a reader’s face starts to screw up in confusion. We don’t want readers to read our work twice – unless it’s for the sheer pleasure of reading it twice.
I grimace when I read a piece of professional writing that stumbles or stutters or mumbles to a degree that makes me stop and have to backtrack to make sense of it. If I falter when I’m reading something I want it to be because I’ve been moved or perhaps shocked by the message. I want it to be because the freelance writer has triumphed in their communication. They have spoken and I have heard.
Missteps in communication on the writer’s part make the reader feel like they have suddenly run from solid ground into a bog. It’s even more disappointing when everything leading up to that point has been so fluent, because it suggests a lazy attitude is at fault rather than a lack of writing talent. There should be no place in professional freelance writing for “oh, that’ll do”.
The writing that is easiest to read is often hardest to perform. With good writing, the focus is not on big or clever words or a large volume of words; the focus is on communication – the most effective way to relay the intended message. Indeed, a good piece of writing may not feature any words that a ten-year-old wouldn’t understand. It is not the words themselves; it is the correct placement of them that matters. Small words are fine. Short sentences are dandy. Whatever works to enhance the communication between the writer and the reader. Consider The Dictionary of Quotations. An effective quotation is simply the fullest encapsulation of meaning in the most concise form so that the reader receives the message loud and clear. It doesn’t have to be flowery or verbose to have an impact. You can read an entire book and say, “Uh-huh”, or you can read one quotation and say, “Wow”.
Effective communication in writing can take time. It involves the willingness to re-read and re-write. Professional deadlines are bound to work against that process to a certain extent, but they should not become a ready excuse that ends up defining your writing no matter how much time is available. Before you know it, you’ll hear yourself saying “Oh, that’ll do” when you know deep down that it really won’t.
What spurred me to write on this subject was a news headline I read the other day. To be fair, writing news headlines is a skill in itself. I read a lot of news headlines in my work, and even the journos at Reuters and Bloomberg can struggle at times to make sense in their headlining of articles.
So I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that a local town newspaper came out with this frown-worthy effort: “Young father dies suddenly at home of cricket“. This wasn’t an interpretation by Google News; it was in the web link to the article as well.
Let’s set aside the clearly tragic nature of the news and try to make sense of the headline. Maybe it’s clear to you from one glance, but I was flummoxed. To my mind, a young father was at home when he died of cricket. Assuming that didn’t mean a particularly aggressive insect, I could only surmise that he had been playing the game of cricket and had then keeled over. Or perhaps he had been fatally hit by a cricket ball in his garden.
Eventually, I had to open the article and read the content to understand. Immediately I got it. I got it because the headline had been altered, presumably because someone had pointed out the potential confusion. It now read: “Tributes paid to Caterham father who died suddenly at Lord’s”.
Lord’s is a cricket ground which is thought of as the home of cricket.
I’ll leave you with this, which I think is a rather lovely end to my week. I just checked my emails and I have one from my bank telling me: “You have 1 important massage”. You know, that’s just what I need at the end of a stressful week. Say what you like about the banks being arseholes these past few years, but this level of personal service goes a long way to redress the balance. I will be taking my Egyptian cotton towel and dewberry massage oil into my local branch first thing tomorrow morning and draping myself across the nearest desk. I hope I get the pretty teller. The one without the moustache.