of us use the written word, probably more than we realize. But it seems
it has four primary uses.
For information: newspapers,
magazines, nonfiction books, warranties and instruction sheets, etc.
For entertainment: books, short
stories, some types of blogs
To convey a message or
inspiration: articles, devotionals, blogs, again nonfiction books, and
even inspirational fiction.
To stay in touch with family and
friends: letters, postcards, e-mail, social networking.
Even in our conversations,
chances are we use our words for giving information, entertaining,
conveying a message, or just networking. Which of them is the most
important? It depends on what is going on in our lives at that moment.
If we are concerned about
something that is taking place in the world (these days often related
to what the idiots in Washington are doing), then giving or receiving
information may be what is on our minds. If the water heater is on the
fritz, the warranty certificate or owner’s manual becomes important.
If we have something to say,
then conveying that message is important. It goes without saying, when
we have a friend or family member on our minds, conveying exactly what
we want the other party to know is of primary importance.
So written words are important.
I had a professor in a college course say something over forty years
ago that has always stuck with me. He said we need to think of
ourselves as having a box full of index cards (remember, I said forty
years ago), and on those cards are written the sum total of our
upbringing and family environment, our education, our experiences, our
likes and dislikes, everything that makes us what we are. When we
convey a message, written or spoken, we thumb though the cards and
compose a message that says what we want to say.
problem is the receivers of our messages have a box of cards, too, and
chances are every card in their boxes is different from the ones in
ours, but they use their boxes to decode the
message. Possibilities for misunderstanding are rampant. The key is for
as much of the message as possible to be written or spoken in areas
where the boxes have common ground.
words themselves can get in
the way. This is why most things are written at about a seventh-grade
level, where most people can read and understand, and even people with
much larger vocabularies are comfortable reading this level. It would
kill a good story, for example, if the flow were interrupted every page
or two because the reader has to stop and look up a word to know what
the author is saying. I figure two maybe three times and the reader
would put the book down, never to pick it up again.
The bottom line is that being an
effective communicator is important whether we are writing for
publication or just standing in line at the grocery store, talking to
someone. How often have we said something to someone only to have them
get indignant because they took a meaning from the message that we
didn’t even know could be there? I’ve done that a lot. I remember
asking a friend how it went after he spoke at a board meeting. His
response was “I think I just missed a wonderful opportunity to keep my
We are never “just” talking or
“just” writing. We are always communicating, and that is a skill that
can and should be learned and developed.