Competitive Communication: A Rhetoric for Modern Business

By Barry Eckhouse | Go to book overview

8
MANAGING ETHOS
Conciseness

I never write "metropolis" for seven cents, because I can get the same money for "city." I never write "policeman," because I can get the same price for "cop." . . . I never write "valetudinarian" at all, for not even hunger and wretchedness can humble me to the point where I will do a word like that for seven cents; I wouldn't do it for fifteen.

-- Mark Twain, to the Associated Press

Since how a person speaks and writes is a fair reflection of how a person thinks and feels, shoddy language may imply shoddy people -- a public whose ideals have been discarded and whose ideas have been distorted.

-- Robert Fiske, Concise Writing

College graduates who enter business are often surprised by the difference between the kind of writing they did in school and the kind of writing they are expected to do as part of their profession. For the most part, college students do not write in the heavily formatted style that is used to produce memoranda, nor do they usually write to a multiple audience, one that could easily include both an external client with technical expertise and an internal supervisor who has no technical background at all. College students seldom write collaboratively, a practice that is characteristic of business writing. 1 And finally, college students generally do not write for action, for readers who will be expected to implement their ideas. They write instead for appraisal, and for a reader they expect will evaluate their ideas. 2

One of the more remarkable differences between writing at school and writing at work is that each appears to encourage a different economy of expression. Early academic essays are typified by the two-thousand-word essay, and subsequent assignments frequently have page requirements. Although teachers may defend word and page requirements as a necessary means of forcing students to develop their ideas, those students who do not appreciate this academic intention will simply equate length with quality. Students who write under the assumption that "more is better" will pro-

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