Opinion: Educate and Entertain – More or Less

When I gave out a list of rules for writing most kinds of text, I left one off the bottom:

  • Put the reader first
  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Get to the point. Then stop.
  • Express one thought at a time.
  • Use short phrases
  • Use short sentences
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Never use a long word when a short one will do.
  • Edit thoroughly; cut, cut, cut
  • Write in a conversational style –

Just a moment – a conversational style!?

I have continual arguments with colleagues of mine. I deride their endless dashes, semi-colons, parentheses. Subordinate clauses all piled up like a road crash in thick fog on the highway. I was trained to write like Detective Joe Friday in Dragnet – “just the facts, ma’am.”

I have to admit their text is more entertaining than mine, which is mostly dull. The trouble is, when you cover a lot of technical subjects, you have to include a lot of facts.

Facts are relatively easy to document. Facts will fit easily into bullet-point lists. Facts can be endlessly educational. And tedious. Facts are better absorbed into the human brain when there is some context which engages that brain. Which explains why my college exams were such a disaster. Facts alone do not always engage. You need to entertain.

So here’s a question; when you write, is your purpose to educate or entertain? Why not both? AJS

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