Hello Professor and Classmates,
The most important part of writing for William Zinsser is to put the writer’s ideas in as few and simple words as possible, so that the audience can easily understand what is being said. He says that clutter makes the writer look pretentious and slows the reader. In other words, the reader loses time and interest in the reading material while trying to figure out what those words mean. For him, using fancy words only serves to make the writer look important and knowledgeable. Undoubtedly, many readers prefer a writer that uses a concise and direct writing style. But, what happens when the goal of the writer is to make an impression and confuse the audience? In that case, simplicity is not the most important element in writing. In the ambiguous language used by Alexander Haigh, a politician cited by Zinsser, the goal was to never make things clear for people. Alexander Haigh’s goal was to slow his audience’s comprehension of what he was saying and give the impression that he knew how to handle difficult situations. This politician got his objectives done by using clutter. When he was writing down his responses, the least important thing was clarity and simplicity.
I do not agree with William Zinsser’s claim that the most important part of writing is to put the writer’s ideas in as few and simple words as possible. Writing with the goal of provoking the desired response in the reader is the most important part of writing. Often, simplicity or getting rid of the clutter can help the writer get the job done. For example, simplicity can be helpful when giving instructions, writing for kids or a low-literacy audience. Although sometimes, the writer may want to use a higher vocabulary or sound more professional. For example, using a higher vocabulary may be helpful when a politician is trying to evade a tough question, or when someone is trying to make a good impression in an interview. Depending on the situation and the audience, a writer may choose to use different styles. For instance, when giving a condolence speech at a funeral, the objective of bringing consolation to the mourner is more important than being direct and concise in the writing. Every writer wants to give something to the reader (an idea, a tip, a funny moment, a lie, etc.), and as long as this is accomplished, it doesn’t matter if the words that are used are few or many.
“Simplicity” and “Clutter,” by William Zinsser, are two similar articles with the theme of simplicity being the key to good writing. I agree with Zinsser in that clean and simple writing is appropriate for all readers because it decreases reader misinterpretation and disinterest. First of all, politics is a topic of intentional miscommunication. As exemplified in the articles, politicians use very pretentious language. Not only is it used to sound intelligent, but it is also used in hopes that the average citizen will not understand what the politician is talking about. If he or she is less likely to understand, then they are less likely to disagree with what is really going on. Most people do not graduate with a degree in English. Even graduating college with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, I do not understand half of what politicians are saying unless I see it on paper and take the time to decipher their message. Like many Americans, I honestly do not want to waste time trying to unravel what these politicians are actually saying. Time is valuable in this country and can be better spent.
Secondly, using long, wordy sentences is exhausting and unappealing to the brain. One of society’s goals is to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. As I mentioned earlier, time is precious in America; thus, it has a great impact on our attention spans. If an article is tedious to read because it is not straightforward, then most individuals will instinctively move on to another task. However, there is a poor example on word choice used in the article, “Clutter.” Zinsser states, “Beware, then, of the long word that is no better than the short word: ‘numerous’ (many), ‘facilitate’ (ease), ‘individual’ (man or woman), ‘remainder’ (rest), ‘initial’ (first)…” This is a contradicting example because these “long words” are still basic words used in ordinary conversations. There is nothing wrong with a word that is a few letters longer if it is understood by the average citizen. Although good writing can be very subjective, Zinsser makes valid points on the misleading and uninteresting effects of clutter that I generally agree with.