Friday, November 2, 2012

Persuasive Writing: The Perils of the Blue Pen

When I teach persuasive writing, I caution my students against overwriting—going “over the top”—and underwriting—writing in too neutral a manner. November 1 gave us an excellent example of overwriting: George Wills’ column in the Washington Post. Here is the introductory paragraph

Energetic in body but indolent in mind, Barack Obama in his frenetic campaigning for a second term is promising to replicate his first term, although simply apologizing would be appropriate. His long campaign’s bilious tone — scurrilities about Mitt Romney as a monster of, at best, callous indifference; adolescent japes about “Romnesia” — is discordant coming from someone who has favorably compared his achievements to those of “any president” since Lincoln, with the “possible” exceptions of Lincoln, LBJ and FDR. Obama’s oceanic self-esteem — no deficit there — may explain why he seems to smolder with resentment that he must actually ask for a second term.

I doubt that this style appealed to anyone but inveterate Obama haters .Just look at all the excessive adjectives and fancy words. (When is the last time that you encountered the word “jape”? Bill Buckley could entertain us with the fancy patter, but George Will is no Buckley).

For a more persuasive middle way, compare Joshua Green’s November 1 column in Bloomberg Businessweek. He works with facts and a clean style to great effect.

Again, for the record, my point here is about writing style and has nothing to do with the merits of the respective candidates.


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