December 07, 2004

Bad writing is not surprising

I stumbled across two discussions today that highlight two different kinds of horrifically bad writing. I think both kinds can be blamed on our modern consumer culture.

Brian Leiter's post cited a NYT article describing how corporations were spending billions to provide remedial writing instruction to their employees. Some of the examples in the article seem to implicate a basic illiteracy traceable to chronic instant messaging:

hI KATHY i am sending u the assignmnet again, i had sent you the assignment earlier but i didnt get a respond. If u get this assgnment could u please respond . thanking u for ur cooperation.
In addition to simple illiteracy, corporations are plagued with bad writing of a sort that seems a bit more insidious. PTDR links to a BBC article that provides a few good examples of "corporate gobbledygook." This kind of bad writing is probably due less to illiteracy and more to the corporate toleration (encouragement?) of hyperbole, obfuscation, and cliché:
The combination of Gerry Anderson's creativity and state-of-the-art high-definition animated production and production facilities, Sony's global strength in providing a one-stop global solution to develop Captain Scarlet product iterations across all media platforms, ability to define and launch a business management strategy leveraging Sony's market strength in each category and our ability at TriMedia to converge the film and music worlds independently with vertical and street marketing expertise will prove to be of great benefit for all involved.
In other words, "we've got a plan to sell a lot of shit and make a lot of money."

The Business Roundtable may complain about bad writing, but the business community may have brought it upon themselves. Both kinds of bad corporate writing--illiteracy and gobbledygook--may have a common source in our marketing-mad consumer culture. Illiteracy is encouraged when multiple advertisers ceaselessly compete for tiny fragments of our attention with soundbites and slogans. This environment might help to boost sales, but it also discourages the kind of sustained attention that is a prerequisite for the development of good writing skills.

Corporate gobbledygook is merely the other side of our society's dependence on advertising. Businesses of all kinds are constantly trying to sell themselves on the basis of hyperbolic slogans. Much of the English we're subjected to every day is the kind of bloated gobbledygook that is the meat-and-potatoes of business-to-consumer communication. It's no wonder that many of us can't help but imitate this style when we try to write something ourselves.

EDIT: My own bad writing is due entirely to that Jonathan Franzen novel I read a few years back.

Posted by Carey at December 7, 2004 09:12 PM