Polished English

fountain penHow confident are you about your written English? It has become the global language of business, and much else. It is fast becoming the first-choice second language around the world, and young people going into business, media and public life often see English as a vital skill.

You may speak excellent English, fluent and articulate – but written English is a different thing. The language is idiosyncratic, and constantly evolving, so what was good style 20 years ago can come across now as stilted, old-fashioned, inappropriate.

Professionals working now are still using the English they were taught at school from text books that may have been written 20 years before that – even if their spoken English is right up to date.

One of my favourite kinds of work is polishing poor English, either written by people who aren’t native English speakers, or translated badly by an agency using non-natives. I love editing far more than I love writing, and it’s fun taking a piece of substandard text and giving it a scrub and a good buffing to bring it up to a linguistic shine.

Sometimes it’s amending minor style glitches when the writer has used old-fashioned style or vocabulary, or seven words where one would have done; at other times it seems that someone has put a piece of text through an online translation tool, with laughable results.

There is also the befuddling combination of jargon and awkward English, so that no-one has a clue what the writer is on about. Jargon is what experts like to write, but  no-one (not even another expert) likes to read…

Unless you’re an experimental poet or an avant garde literary novelist playing with words and the space around them, writing is generally a means of getting ideas across to your readership; often the top priority is to make the message easy to understand, memorable, and sparking a response. You don’t want to force readers to go over the text more than once to get the meaning. You don’t want to bore them, or irritate them. At best they’ll stop reading. At worst they’ll get a bad impression of you and all your works.

So quite apart from the quality of the content, it’s important to get the words right, even in the era of online txt. And if you’re aiming your words at native English speakers, it’s crucial not to distract them with mistakes and bad style which will leap off the page.

You can see a few examples of original and edited text via the following links.

Jargon junk

If you need some polishing done, drop me a line. Distance is, of course, no issue, as words travel lightly in cyberspace.