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Pax Australiana: A most peaceful colonisation

The difficult art of bad writing


TUMBY BAY - I noticed Keith recently removed from the blog and put under review a caption on a photograph the accuracy of which had been challenged by a reader.

Keith engaged with the author of the story, asking whether he could confirm the veracity of his information.

The author sought and found confirmation from a reliable source and the caption was reinstated. All part of the editor’s job.

I’ve also noticed that Keith lets some regular commentators’ efforts through to the keeper. Presumably they are too indecipherable to even bother about.

Bad writing 1Keith tells me he sometimes does that but not because of favouritism.

“I try to edit bad writing in Recent Comments but occasionally let it through,” he says. “But never on the main page.

“Just because an opinion is bizarre, or the writing idiosyncratic, doesn’t discount it.

“But if writers propagate something unsafe or seriously misleading, their words are unlikely to run intact.

“They will be heavily edited, and I’ll often append in a footnote my reasoning or provide factual material I’ve researched.

“I try very hard to publish. There has to be a very good reason why I won’t,” Keith says.

I’m a great fan of plain written English. And plain written Tok Pisin for that matter. Hiri Motu is thankfully geared for both plain speaking and plain writing.

Contrary to popular belief it takes quite a bit of skill to get an idea across in plain written English.

Bad writin 2People who can’t write well tend to fill their work with excessive words, complicated sentences, confused logic and much repetition.

And when they try to get creative, god forbid, the outcome is often indecipherable gobbledegook.

PNG Attitude has got its fair share of annoying sesquipedalian [long-winded], obscurantist [over-complicated], pleonasmic [verbose] and gobbledegook merchants among its commentators, as do most blogs.

If those words had you reaching for a dictionary or feeling the beginnings of a headache you’ll know what I mean.

These writers are not so much interested in getting their message across as proving they are smarter than the rest of us.

Bad writing 3Research shows that people generally consider writers who use simple and less complex language to be smarter and more intelligent.

This is seen in the character Mma Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s beautifully simple The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels.

Well before McCall Smith, Horace, the ancient Roman poet and satirist, warned against using sesquipedalia verba [words a foot and a half long] in his book, Ars poetica, a collection of maxims about writing that he produced about 19BC.

I am of an age when my tolerance and ability for tackling anything too difficult is just about exhausted.

If I start reading something that is verbose, littered with obscure words or deranged grammar, something in my brain goes click and I turn off and stop reading.

This routine is now so refined that the mere sight of certain names will trip the switch.

HoraceBut don’t get me wrong, that is not to say there aren’t any good writers among PNG Attitude commentators.

On the contrary, there are some who are quite brilliant and I’ll read anything they write even if I disagree with them.

PNG Attitude is unusually and particularly gifted with fine writers and commentators. You don’t often see this level of consistently intelligent writing on comparable blogs.

So a word of advice for that smattering of literary prima donnas: keep it simple and concise.

Followers of the blog will appreciate it, and maybe even read what you write.


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Baka Bina

Tru tru tok.

Sampela taim mi save rait olsem sahve kils long mi tasol nogat ya, toktok mi mekim em i goobledegook (em wonem nau?).

Toktok igo narapela hap, meaning igo long narapela hap na samting mi traim long tok ya igo pundaun long bus tais na ino long het bilong mahn.

Phil O, you tok 'keep it simple and concise' - trupla tok, tasol hat yet.

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