Former editor of Britain’s Sunday Times and Editor at Large for Reuters Sir Harold Evans explained why he’s driven crazy by a lot of the “increasingly incomprehensible” business language today in a recent interview with Charlie Rose. “What Orwell predicted would happen has happened” he told Rose, in introducing his recent book entitled “Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters.” The book is now a New York Times Bestseller which The Financial Times calls: “practical advice for those seeking to improve their writing skills.”
Evans explained the increasing incomprehensibility, citing the example of a friend who got a call from someone who wanted to help him sell a company. The caller, Evans detailed, identified the sale as a “liquidation event” instead of referring to it in more simple terms.
He says he wrote the book “because euphemisms are used more than they should be” — and that “with the arrival of digital – the velocity of information is speeding up. To find the real message [it] takes longer than it should ‘because there’s so much verbiage’”.
Evans identifies 10 ways to make writing clearer:
- Get moving – use the active voice. Passive voice creates more words and is harder to understand.
- Be specific – all great writing focuses on simple, concrete terms – not abstractions
- Ration adjectives and raise adverbs
- Cut the fat – check the figures
- Organize for clarity — sentences should be short because they’re easier to understand and speak
- Be positive – sentences should assert a positive instead of a negative
- Don’t be a bore
- Put people first. Using a healthcare example, Evans advises: use a name — not a case number
- Propositions are pesky and can confuse who’s doing what
- Down with monologophobia — don’t be afraid of using the same word twice
Evans’ life and career
Evans love of journalism began in World War 2 – where he encountered a soldier who’d died of tuberculosis at 27. Evans explained how he became “obsessed by many bad things that were hidden” in Britain’s railways and coal mines. He made his name in helping investigative teams for the UK’s Sunday Times – in particular his work on exposing the treatment of babies impacted by thalidomide — as well as the Kim Philby spy case. He later worked for US News and World Report and Conde Nast. He explained the difference between British and US journalism: In American journalism news and opinion are separate. In the UK, he explained, opinion-editorial and news were fused during his career.
Evans went on to detail how he first fell in love with the writing of Tina Brown, then a writer for the Times and later Tatler, Vanity Fair and the Daily Beast. He later fell in love with Brown herself and they’ve been married ever since. “Long may you flourish as the Great interpreter of American life”, he told Rose to end the interview.
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