Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Writing Nonfiction is a craft ...

While reading William Zinsser's "On Writing Well", I decided to look for daily reading (which is of course nonfiction) where the writer misses the point.

Along came our son's school payment and tuition policy. It was intimidating to say the least. I imagined someone reminding me (the parent) of various things in the tone of "Thou shalt not ...".

Here are some bullet points from the tuition policy that are worth highlighting:

  • The font looked dry and frankly, it was hard to read. I thought Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst should be a must read. Once again, I realized that keeping something simple is hard.
  • Writing something in all caps IS CONSIDERED OFFENSIVE, isn't it? Well, this howler was full of such sentences. They were supposed to be the reminders to parents. I was intimidated rather than being reminded of.
  • Use of strong verbs and constructs like "require", "non-proratable" (is that even a word?), "absolutely no", "overdue notice", "termination", "must be" usually in all caps made the situation worse.
  • The prose was not only difficult to read, it made no sense at times with such sentences as:
    • It is a mandatory that each child must have an Earthquake Kit. (It is mandatory that each child has an Earthquake Kit.)
    • If we do not receive the total balance due by the due date, it will be considered as late (exactly what will be considered as late?)
Maybe I am being a grumpy parent for this is a payment policy. But wait a minute, I do like the school, it's just that this letter was not pleasant to read.

Where has all the warmth, affection been lost? Why must the school policies be written in such legalese?

It is all Zinsser's fault :-).