Writing: Good vs. Good Enough

A number of people have mentioned their reluctance to email me with comments because I might critique or otherwise “tear apart” the prose in their messages. Don’t worry, I’m not that anal retentive about writing. Back in college, I wrote a short piece which was published in the October 1987 issue of Communique. The piece dealt with writing to the level of your purpose. The remainder of this post is the article.

With all the new whistles and bells associated with electronic media, can writing survive? Of course it can. Even in today’s high-tech era, writing is still the most effective way to remember a bright idea, obtain a research grant, or poetically confess your love.

Although writing has survived, most people avoid writing because they assume they can’t write well. We are constantly trying to map the boundaries of the nebulous gray area we associate with “good writing.” Lacking the time and/or incentive to create perfect prose, we often ask what caliber of writing will be “good enough?” Answers to this question usually revolve around “whatever works,” “whatever the instructor wants,” or “I don’t know.” Ironically, the first two answers are realistically close to the mark. Writing needn’t always be judged on its apparent depth or complexity. Writing should be judged on whether it fulfills its purpose, and how well it serves its audience.

If a hastily scribbled noted to yourself on a restaurant napkin helped you remember a new idea, then the note was effective. If your proposal for a research grant is approved, then it was good enough to do its job. And, if the object of your desire swoons over you latest poem, then the poem was successful; it didn’t need to be styled after Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Writing well doesn’t necessarily require a Ph.D. (although it will likely help). Writing documents that are “good enough” requires only that you know your specific audience’s needs. Whether you are writing to yourself, a funding institution, or a lover, knowing your audience well will yield a piece of work which is tailor-made to please them.

Here lies a large piece of the manipulative power of prose. The more you know about your prospective audience, the more influence you will have over them. You can discover what will interest them, and what will bore them. You can word your sentences in ways that can provoke anger, or draw sympathy. With enough forethought and the appropriate diction, you can draw emotions from your audience as easily as the paper draws ink from your pen.

So, in the future, first judge yourself on the effectiveness of your written work, and never be ashamed over the differences between “good” and “good enough.”

This article was designed to be informative and to hold your attention for about three minutes. If you are reading this sentence, then the article was quite effective in its appointed purpose.

It was “good enough.”

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