I love words, and I love writing.
Talking, less so – but I do believe in taking inspiration from talking when writing.
Academia instills a different mindset, certainly in my experience, and so my undergraduate essays were formal in register and complex in sentence structure: that’s what was (rightly or wrongly) expected. But since entering the world of business communications, I’ve been converted. I now think that most situations call for a back to basics approach to writing.
I think it’s absolutely right that school teachers encourage pupils to find more interesting and descriptive replacements for ‘nice’ and ‘said’ and ‘get’. It builds vocabulary and encourages an appreciation for (if not necessarily a love of) creative writing. But while I’m all for e-learning scripting to be approached more like a creative writing exercise (within reason), I tend to think that in many – if not most – cases, those plain and simple words we were trained out of as children are just right for the job.
That’s why I was really interested by the results of a study by language consultancy The Writer. My impression is that this wasn’t a particularly extensive study (you can read more about how and where they gathered these results in their original blog post) but it’s interesting nonetheless. Essentially, the study supports The Writer’s belief that there are some words we use in written communication that just don’t crop up in speech. They compiled a short list of words that are found many more times in the written word than in the spoken word, and their counterparts that are much more commonly used in spoken English. Words like ‘purchase’, ‘obtain’ and ‘receive’ are replaced by ‘buy’ or ‘get’ in speech, for example.
What’s particularly interesting is that, as far as I can tell from The Writer’s summary of the study, this research is not based on any particular type of writing or speaking: it reflects global usage (global in the sense of genre, rather than geography). There’s no second list of the words most commonly used in spoken business situations, for example. This means that ‘get’ is used by speakers in situations ranging from playground chit-chat to board room presentations, and from dinner party conversations to politicans’ speeches. And if it’s good enough for world leaders, it’s good enough for learners.
So let’s get back to basics when writing for e-learning and close that vast, unnecessary divide between the way we talk and the way we write.