Words Are Powerful Tools

lightning bolts
Word are powerful tools
Photo: CC John Fowler

Most word processors come with fairly capable spelling and grammar checkers. Yet they may find nothing wrong with this paragraph:

A work shape can bee a dangerous palace. Where appropriate cloths, including protective I cornering. Donut handle dangerous chemical with bear hands. Care fully red the instructions on lapels. You’re works pace should all so bee fee of debris and cutter. Tack the thyme two clean bee fore and after you work season. And all whey sue the write toll four the right jab.

Writing well isn’t difficult, but it does require a certain degree of skill. It’s not enough to scribble words on a page or pound text into a keyboard. Writing well requires thorough research and thoughtful analysis. You have to understand the subject you’re writing about, but you also have to understand the needs of your readers.

Are you writing for an audience of neophytes with little prior exposure to the subject, or do the readers already have a basic understanding of the concepts involved and they simply want to deepen their knowledge? Do you need to justify the importance of the material? Do you need to demonstrate practical applications? Do you need to motivate the readers? If so, motivate them to do what?

If you write without understanding why you’re writing and who you’re writing for, you may end up with a document that will satisfy your proofing tools, but will not satisfy your readers. It may even do more harm than good. A poorly written manual for a piece of software may so frustrate and annoy the users that they refuse to work with the application you’ve spent a small fortune developing. A condescending or patronizing sales letter may drive your potential customers to the competition. Inaccuracies in an article may land you in court on libel charges.

Words are powerful tools — when used properly.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), 1835 – 1910