Sunday, April 30, 2006

Style Lesson 10

Style Lesson 10: The Ethics of Style

There is an ethic of style involved in writing. One way to establish bad ethics is through unintended obscurity. Those who write in ways that seem dense and convoluted rarely think they do, much less intend to. The ethics of writing are clearer when a writer knowingly uses language in self-interested ways. If the writer intended to deflect responsibility, then we can reasonably charge him with breaching the First Rule of Ethical Writing, for surely, he would not want that same kind of writing directed to him, systematically hiding who is doing what in a matter close to his interests. Writers owe readers an ethical duty to write precise and nuanced prose, but we ought not to assume that we owe us indefinite amount of their time to unpack it. If we choose to write in ways that we know will make readers struggle, it is allowed, but unethical, the authors suggest. Some people may wonder why they should struggle to learn to write clearly when bad writing seems so common and has no cost. What experienced readers know is that clear and graceful writers are so few that when we find them, we are desperately grateful for them. They do not go unrewarded.

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