Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mantra overload (4)

In an earlier post, I quoted Vivek Kundra (photo), who appears to be a heavy user of mantras even by the loose standards of politicians. During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Kundra had crammed three mantras into one sentence.

In a speech at the Federal Office Systems Exposition, Mr. Kundra again proved to be a virtuoso of vagueness. He managed to work six mantras into two consecutive sentences:

“…making sure that we put information out there [1] in the public domain and a different worldview of what it means to be a citizen.... [What] the idea of citizenship in terms of civic participation and transparency [2] or open government allow you to do is to embrace [3] the notion [4] that the government is about [5] we the people [6] and that it’s taxpayer dollars that are being spent.” (Boldface added, to highlight mantras.)

The Takeaway: In writing, and especially in formal writing, use mantras sparingly or not at all. Mantra overload can make you look too stupid to know what you mean or too lazy to express it clearly. Mantra overload can even make you look slippery, because readers will mentally associate you with politicians. Whenever you catch yourself using a lot of mantras, slow down and choose your words more carefully. Keep asking yourself, “What do I mean?” Your writing will almost automatically become more precise.

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