I am trying to get this sorted out in my own mind – so I’ll just think out loud right here. Writing has many forms, creative, essay, informative, technical, and business to name a few. Each form has a function.
With creative writing we expect to see plenty of colorful adjectives expounding on the beauty of metaphor. The reader is encouraged to use their imagination to paint a picture with the oils provided. That may be a streaking landscape at sunset, or a gnarled old man sitting on a park bench, shooing the pigeons away. Creative writing is usually found in fiction. Creative writing is generally thought to be non-scholarly, usually an expression of emotion.
Essays take their own structure, with an introduction containing a theses or hypothesis, a body of information to support the bold opening statement, and a conclusion. Essays are argumentative or persuasive. We want the other guy to agree with our point of view.
Informative writing falls in the category of objective journalism. Tell them what happened, where it happened, who was the do-er and who was the do-ee, perhaps even how – but generally not why. ‘Why’ is subjective and does not qualify. There are strict and specific standards for professional journalism – the reporting of news.
Technical writing came of age with the computer age – when every person and their dog realized that they needed to know how to turn the thing on. “Technical Writing for Dummies” is one of my favorites. Years ago I was a computer programmer – yes, readers – before there were PC’s. The early frustration and fear of computers was because the programmers were expected to also be technical writers and that scared the whazoo out of potential computer users. Technical writing since has become a science.
Business writing has been a science for a long time. I am not talking about taking shorthand. I am talking about one business professional talking to another. As my career advanced I found myself making proposals to a Board of Directors of a company for approval of computer projects. The ‘Executive Summary’ was very important. These business men did not want or need adjectives and imagery – they wanted the facts in as few words as possible. There is a science to writing the inter-office memo. ‘Get to the point’ would qualify as the main theme.
Bloggers do all of these writing styles – and they are right or wrong depending on what they are trying to accomplish. You and I write about everything we think about.
Writing a recipe is technical writing. I like to tell a little about the gooey mix of bread dough – and that is entertaining to everyone but the person who is just trying to make bread – they don’t care that the dough coughs and hiccups along the way – just tell me what to do!
My thought is that most of our writing falls into the category of persuasive essay – but we take artist’s license and flavor the essay with some creative ventures into the neighboring forest. But that is not done frivolously. We are trying to be persuasive, to convey our message, and to be entertaining. Mark Twain said that classics are books that people put on their shelves and no one reads. There is some truth to that. A persuasive essay persuades no one if it is boring and people will not read it.
Steven Ambrose was criticized for his biography of Meriwether Lewis, “Undaunted Courage,” because he took license to use some creative writing – giving the story a flavor of a novel. The scholars criticized him – but people read the book. History is often viewed as a boring subject – but I think that is because historians have traditionally been boring people who practice boring, albeit scholarly, writing.
Print journalists are writers first, journalists second. Very few of them declared a journalism major in college so they could have a career writing obituaries. I know several reporters and they all believe that they bring unique wisdom and insight to every article they write – that doesn’t sound very objective to me. The really skilled print journalists have learned to mask their bias – actually I think they are taught this – in an objective sort of way.
Journalists conduct interviews and they are encouraged to quote people with direct involvement in the story. This practice lends credibility and makes the story more interesting – gives it that personal feel. But that practice is regularly abused. They interview someone for five minutes. That person says three hundred words – twelve of those words make it into print – and you know who decides which twelve words make it – the reporter. The reporter chooses the words that best support his or her bias. They are human – they can’t help it.
You and I talk about titles for our posts. These are nothing short of headlines – the same thing print journalists use to attract and bias readers. Example: The reporter writes a story about the local School Board Meeting where the new budget is adopted. The next day’s headlines might say, “School Board approves $180,000,000 budget,” or the same story might have a headline of “School Board ignores reform in budget.” The Headline reflects the bias of the Editor – and sets the tone of the story. But the format and information is deemed objective. This is disturbing to me because of the criticism of bloggers for not being ‘professional.’
That is correct – we are not as good at bias as they are – we are right up front with our position.
All of this is complicated when we mix media. Newspapers print still pictures – and the pictures are carefully chosen to convey an impression. The internet offers opportunities for all varieties of mixed media: print, video, podcasts, and direct timely feedback from readers. This is the stuff of another post.
Good writers, whether print journalists, fiction writers, or bloggers should be aware of the needs of their audience. Writing a recipe calls for a specific style, blasting a politician calls for another, and debating the finer points of theology calls for another.
You and I are new at this. We don’t have an editorial staff to review our work before we present it. That is good and bad – our poor writing will be out there – but the good writing will not be cut by cowardice. We have to be conscious of what we are doing – I think we are. Let us be aware of our work. Let us be sensitive to the needs of the audience. Let us rise above the fray and just do a good job of writing.