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Good writing isn’t always what we imagine

By November 21, 2008websites

Bryan Garner, the famed legal writing guru, asked people at the ABA Franchise meeting in Austin last month if they were willing to try something for 6 months that would dramatically improve their writing. A chorus of grudging yays echoed forth. The reluctance stemmed from the assumption that he was about to suggest some sort of daily writing regimen.

“Subscribe to The Economist,” was one of his suggestions. Fortunately, I’d already completed this assignment. Before I read The Economist I’d assumed that it was a highbrow financial magazine filled with dense prose and weighty proclamations. Once again, my fast assumptions proved to be flat wrong.

The Economist is one of the most interesting magazines I’ve ever come across. First, all of the articles are written anonymously. And yet they all have the same tone and style—that of a well informed person who isn’t afraid to make (clever) off the cuff comments. But, of course, none of the comments are ‘off the cuff.’ All of the language is heavily edited.

And therein lies the rub. The writing style conveys a breezy manner, but the arguments are well-thought out. Oh, and that’s another difference: the writers don’t shy away from taking strong positions. They make arguments.

But, aside from the arguments, it’s really the style of writing that deserves careful attention. The jaunty manner is evident in the recent article about Obama’s victory and transition to power entitled ‘’ Read the whole article to get a sense of this, but here are examples of sentences that I doubt you’d ever see in a mainstream U.S. publication:

“There are also plenty of fissures in Obamaworld.”

And in discussing the laborious process of confirming the 7,000 administration appointees, this sentence:

“Nominees endure an absurdly long nomination process, filling in 60 pages of forms and submitting themselves to extensive FBI vetting, during which plods from the bureau inquire about their taste for intoxicants and the legal status of their nannies.”

Words like ‘Obamaworld’ and ‘plods’ are too colorful for journals like Time or Newsweek, which seem to believe that credibility is created through the illusion of neutrality. The Economist shows us that it’s okay to argue points and to use everyday words. Well, it shows us that only if we read it.

So does Mr. Garner suggest that we look only to foreign publications for examples of good writing? No, he also suggests that we subscribe to the New Yorker.

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One Comment

  • amigaboy says:

    I used to subscribe to The Economist, until I tired of the lengthy and perpetual George W Bush apologism that permeated nearly every story. Even when they were taking Ashcroft to task and/or endorsing Kerry in the last election, the rest of the mag would be devoted to ‘why Bush isn’t so bad’…I finally told them to stuff it and went to BusinessWeek instead – similar content (although not nearly as world-looking, to be sure) without the right-wing slant. And now that Bush’s horrible legacy is about to be brought to a LOOONG overdue close, it would appear they can take the time to write about something productive for a change.


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