Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical, and Business Communication

By Christopher Turk; John Kirkman | Go to book overview
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7

Style for readability

Functional style

The word 'style' is usually associated with literary writing. We are conscious that to offer to discuss style will remind many of our readers of school poetry lessons; but to have style in the sense we use in this chapter does not mean to be 'florid' or 'ornate': it is to adapt the language code to particular ends. Language can be used for a variety of purposes; it can, among other things, announce or warn (notices), instruct (operating instructions), persuade (advertising), and inform (reports and articles). What is efficient in writing can be measured only in relation to the purpose of the writing. If the purpose is to give pleasure, then attractiveness becomes one of the criteria of the efficient manipulation of the code; but if the purpose is to warn or to instruct, then notices like 'Keep off the grass' are admirable. They manipulate the resources of the code to achieve their ends. In other words they have good style.

There is a distinction between imaginative literature (with which the idea of style is usually associated) and functional writing. 1 We are concerned in this Chapter solely with effective style for the communication of information; what is efficient for this context is what is clearest and quickest. Elegance may or may not be a by-product; but it can never be an intention. Style for functional writing should be unobtrusive, an invisible medium, like a window pane through which the information can be clearly seen. 2 Of course, lapses from good taste, or unacceptable usage, can be unfunctional, in that they disturb and distract the reader. But equally distracting is any usage where the motivation is display or ornamentation, rather than clarity.

Effective style will contain a variety of structures and usages, and will not ban any feature of the language code. Our experience is that the poor quality of much scientific and technical writing is the result not of misguided attempts at stylishness,

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