Economy in Good Writing
Journalism students have difficulty appreciating the idea of tight writing. Yet it is probably the concept most widely agreed upon among good writers and teachers of writing. They may not agree on using an adjective as a noun or whether a comma should be used in a compound sentence, but almost all teachers of writing and all writers agree that tight writing is essential.
Tight writing means using no more words than necessary to give a sentence a precise meaning. Tight writing keeps thc reader reading. Loose, uneconomical writing loses the reader to a television program or household chores because he or she feels the wordiness of an article steals time from something more important.
According to Philip Knightley in The First Casualty, a study of war correspondents, tight writing started for economical reasons. In the telegraph's infancy more than a century ago, the rate for news stories was $5 a word. 'Sending a summary of a battle by telegraph meant adopting a new style: crisp, concise, and packed with facts," Knightley writes. Additionally, tightly written stories give editors room for more stories in their newspapers or broadcasts. Economy of expression takes on even more importance in the video newspaper, with its limitations of a small screen and a restless audience. To fully appreciate tight writing, every journalist should work for a highway department. If you want to see clear messages simply stated, examine the signs highway engineers erect. The people who write these messages cannot waste words-they are limited to a relatively small space intended to be read quickly and understood immediately by any motorist. My favorite sign stands at an intersection where only a right turn is permitted. The person who wrote the message did not say NO LEFT TURN, for that would have meant a motorist could drive through the intersection, a movement equally dangerous in this instance. Instead, the sign writer produced: RIGHT TURN ONLY. Those three words convey this message: It is dangerous to turn left or drive through this intersection at all times of day and night. Violation of this sign's message may result in a bad accident or an arrest.
The second part of that sign's message is not an actual part of it. Rather, you know that to ignore a legally posted sign on a highway can result in your being arrested, fined and maybe even jailed. Your knowledge is conventional information, information about customs that every member of a society learns.. And it is with conventional information that tight writing begins.