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How to Write Clear, Readable, Effective Sentences that Readers Love!
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Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing

Complexity and Pomposity in Poor WritingOne thing is clear about government writing: It's neither clear nor simple; most of it is complex and pompous. This shouldn't upset anyone. It's an indisputable fact. And all we have to do is to read critically what government writes normally.

But government agencies are not alone with its complexity and pomposity. These same gobbledygook factors bother other organizations, businesses, and industries every day. What, exactly, do these two, two-syllable words mean in writing?

They mean:

(1) Complex:—NOT simple .... knotty, tangled.

(2) Pompous:—NOT natural .... stilted, stuffy.

And here are a few of the terms used by experts to describe complex and pompous prose:

.... falsely formalistic .... cluttered with officialese .... written to impress, not express .... ostentatious .... bookish .... priggish .... unnatural .... bearing complexity as the badge of wisdom .... stuffed with language of incredible specific gravity.

If we are complex and pompous in our writing, and we are, why are we?

There are many reasons, of course:
  • poor training in college,
  • bad thinking habits,
  • slavish imitation of other bad writing,
  • wrong ideas about readers,
  • lack of hard work,
  • a confusion between dignity and pomposity, and
  • a failure to understand that wisdom goes arm-in-arm with simplicity.
Professor E. A. Stauffen, who agreed that complexity and pomposity are the biggest killers of prose, put his chalk on two basic errors that too many people make. They believe:

(1) That an educated person automatically learns how to write well as he works his way through college;

(2) That good writing is easy.

As for Error No. 1, he said:

"To prove that 95 percent of the college graduates don't know how to write is easy. All you have to do is read them. If that doesn't prove to you they can't write, then it proves to me you can't read!"

Of Error No. 2, he said:

"If you think good writing comes easy, then you either don't write, or if you do, you don't know how yet. Good writing is plain, hard, sweaty work."

Complexity and pomposity are two of the biggest fog factors we have in our writing. They kill quick and they kill dead, and they are usually found together. In fact, trying to separate complexity from pomposity is almost impossible, for in a sense, one is the other. But for our purposes, we'll look at them separately.

Complexity is primarily, but not exclusively, a mechanical failure. It results from not keeping the relationship between words, phrases, and clauses simple and logical. It usually comes about when we pack too many facts and ideas into a single sentence; when we thread together too many related objects or effects.

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