Good writing: don’t bubblewrap truth

Published by Peter on

Lazy writing is not good writing, especially in business communications.

I’ve often said that lazy writing exposes lazy thinking. If you can’t clearly and succinctly articulate what you need to say, maybe you’re not ready to say it.

Lazy writing is often a mess. Sometimes it’s just a lot of words thrown together in a hurry. It may be loose and jumbled, or circular and rambling. It may include unnecessary detail or leave out important information.

Lazy writing annoys me because it says you value your own time more than you value mine. If it’s important for me to understand, then make it understandable. If it’s not important for me to understand, then why give me anything at all?

Don’t bury your message in too much packaging

I also don’t trust what I call “thick” writing.

Thick writing is hard to get through. It may be filled with jargon or corporate-speak. It’s riddled with passive voice or long, complex sentences. It may overflow with equivocation. It may drip with diplomatic platitudes.

I call that verbal bubblewrap, and when I see it, I go on high alert. Somewhere under all those words (I assume), is a piece of truth I need to unwrap.

The more wrapping, the harder that truth is to uncover. The more work I have to do to find your message under all that padding, the less likely I am do to it. What if I keep reading and rereading your words and can’t unearth anything of substance at all?

Look, I get it. We all want to soften uncomfortable truths and bad news. It feels kinder and gentler to be diplomatic and careful with difficult topics.

Many people also feel more authoritative using complex, convoluted language. Trust me, you don’t sound more authoritative. You sound like you’re hiding something.

So don’t do it.

The truth is the truth, no matter how much bubblewrap you put around it. Eventually, either the reader will pull apart your words and find that truth, or they’ll come back to you for clarification. Or, they’ll just give up, in which case your work was wasted.

Whatever happens, they’re going to be annoyed, and that does not build trust or good relations.

No one is immune. Good writing takes work.

Even the very best writers work hard at it. Mark Twain, one of the most prolific American authors ever, once got a request from his publisher for a two-page story. They said they needed it in two days. His response, by telegram:

Mark Twain

I think I’m a pretty good writer. I’ve done my 10,000 hours several times over. But even I find verbal bubblewrap and lazy writing seeping into my work.

My biggest problem is equivocations. Qualifiers like “a little” and “a bit” (as in “a little overwhelming” or “a bit sarcastic”) pop up when I’m writing. I cut them out when I edit, and my end product becomes far more easy to read and more clear in meaning.

Equivocations, passive voice, and complex sentence structure are legitimate tools for communication, and they should be deployed with purpose when appropriate. But most often they are symptoms of lazy writing or verbal bubblewrap.

Several books helping with good writing on a bookshelf, centered with a Webster's dictionary
Remember reference books?

A note about judging people on their writing skill

While I appreciate good writing, I don’t judge the quality of a person by the quality of their writing.

We all have different skill sets. I’ve worked with brilliant people, way smarter than I, who produce a three-page word swamp when half a page would do. I’ve worked with others who are terrific speakers but who can’t string together three coherent sentences when they have to write it down.

They’re not bad people. They’re not dumb or untrustworthy. But they could be far more effective with a few simple changes in their writing.

I can help.

I work with top executives and middle managers to improve their leadership skills, their workplace culture, and the effectiveness of their teams. Also, I help individuals identify and achieve their personal goals. Would you like to become more aware, be more effective, be more empowered, and feel fully prepared for your next steps?

Let’s talk.

You can help.

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