There’s a saying in the writing world: Whatever can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. It’s so true. The written word has no voice inflection, nor body language, nor facial expressions to help to convey the true intent of meaning. The words just lie there on the paper (or computer) waiting to be read – and understood.
If you’re the writer who believes it’s up to the reader to navigate the maze of words totally unassisted, this article is for you. Here you will learn a few tips to make your job even easier. Here are 5 surefire ways to confuse your reader – guaranteed.
1. Use abstract terms rather than concrete terms. If you picture in your mind a graceful weeping willow gently blowing in the wind, be sure to use the word tree. If you meant claw hammer, simply write tool. No sense in bothering your reader with excess details, right?
2. Keep sentences as ambiguous as possible by using awkward word order, such as a misplaced modifier or two: “The director spoke to the intern with a harsh voice.” (I wonder who has a harsh voice? Can’t tell by this sentence.)
3. Don’t forget to dangle a few participles – this always helps to lose a reader or two (or three or four). “Gazing up into the sky, the tall trees swayed back and forth in the bright sunlight.” (Okay, if you say so. But I’ve never seen a tree, tall or otherwise, gazing up into the sky!)
4. Now we’re on a roll. Be sure to pay no attention to the correct use of apostrophes. This way the reader won’t know if you mean: they’re or their, your or you’re, its or it’s, whose or who’s, and so on. While you’re at it, never take the time to check to see which is correct. What a waste of good time, right? Mr. or Ms. Reader is pretty much completely lost now. Good job!
5. Be totally unaware that there is no such term as could of, should of, or would of. Since that’s what you heard, what difference does it make that what you really meant to write was a contraction of could have, should have and would have?In that case, the correct usage would look like this: could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve. But hey, as long as you’re on a mission to confuse your reader, this is a small matter.
If you are dead set on confusing your reader, the five ways listed here are as good as any. And this doesn’t even touch on sentence construction, weak verbs, logical arrangement of information, redundant words, or omitting punctuation such as necessary commas. Truth be told, the list is endless.
Hopefully, no writer reading this article would ever intentionally set out to confuse his or her readers. Nevertheless, it happens every day.
As was stated at the outset – anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. Writing, to put it simply, is clear thinking on paper. Clarity should be the utmost goal.
Bottom line, do you have enough respect for your reader to invest the time it takes to ensure that your writing is easy to follow – easy to be understood?
This is a question only you can answer.