Monday, December 5, 2011

Concise writing is usually clear writing (22) – Mark Fuhrman

Below is another sample of clear, concise writing. It is the beginning of a chapter on the 1993 death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, in The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment and Subverts Justice, a book by former Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman (pictured).

“Here’s a tip that may sound callous. If you plan to commit suicide, do your loved ones a favor and make it abundantly clear. Choose perhaps a bridge during rush hour.

“You may not want to blow your brains out on live television, like disgraced politician Bud Dwyer did, but you really should, out of respect, make sure you have reliable witnesses of some kind.

“But whatever you do, don’t go into a vast park you have no connection to, with a gun not familiar to your wife, with bullets not traceable to your stash, leaving no definitive note, telling no one, promising your secretary you’ll be back shortly, and hope that everybody is able to work it all out after you’re gone. Don’t be in that much of a hurry. Please. Write a suicide note that actually has your fingerprints on it, at least. And don’t tear it into thirty-seven pieces and put it in your briefcase. Especially if you are the Deputy Counsel to a scandal-plagued, power-mad administration.” (Emphasis in original.)

This passage is highly readable; it scores 65.6 on the Flesch Reading Ease test. Although the language is indirect and sarcastic, the passage clearly expresses the writer’s point of view and feelings. It lists a few of the many clues that would have made an experienced homicide detective strongly doubt that Mr. Foster (Bill Clinton’s lawyer) killed himself. It also conveys Mr. Fuhrman’s anger over the handling of this case; later in the chapter, he calls the investigation “almost mind-bogglingly unorthodox.”

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least 10 minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day.

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