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Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Words matter. Well chosen they have the ability to move us to tears. Of sadness. Of joy. They can pluck our emotions as assuredly as a classical musician plucks the strings of a harp. Or, if you prefer, play our soul like Noel Gallagher tweaking his Telecaster. Written for the eye or spoken for the ear, words can transport us through time and space. Badly chosen words can move us too. Spark moral outrage and indignation. Provoke anger and frustration. Or, more likely, send us to sleep through a fog of I-really-can’t-be-arsed-to-read-this indifference.

Most of the time we choose the words we speak or write instinctively. We don’t, consciously at least, consider whether they’re the right words. And, as a consequence, sometimes they’re the wrong words. Which may not matter a whole lot if we’re talking to friends or writing to family. But which may matter heaps if we’re comunicating with a wider, possibly less tolerant, more critical audience.

Take the word communicating in the last sentence. It’s missing an m. And while that may not bother you there’ll be some readers fulminating at such a basic mistake. It would undermine my credibility as a communications coach and make selling my services to the angry reader an unlikely prospect. Yet every single day I receive letters and emails exhorting me to buy something that are littered with literals, or are simply (and often complicatedly) inelegant, ineffective, inept, inane. And occasionally insane.

Consider for a moment the poor soul at the NHS who wrote the letter sent to 8.5 million patients advising us that our healthcare records were about to be put onto the computerised Summary Care Record system and that we could opt out of the move if we wished. According to the Telegraph (June 17th 2010), just 15% of the letters were read which means 7.2 million letters were not. A remarkable reflection on our indifference or a sure sign that the letter was poorly written? If you’ve received such a letter let me know your view by posting a comment. Oh and if you’d like to learn how to write professionally and creatively (yes the two can go hand in hand) sign up for my creative and professional writing skills workshop.

3 thoughts on “WORDS MATTER

  1. Well, conspiracy theorist, I think you are being most harsh. Check out the beautiful poem ‘Earthly Pleasure’ which appears elsewhere on this site… then, moved, perhaps you could forgive whatever factual error you are highlighting here. That poem is beautifully written, very evocative; if I close my eyes I can almost imagine myself in the surroundings described. Perhaps the poet could post some more of his work.

  2. There is one significant error in your post, by the way. It’s a factual error, i.e. not a spelling mistake or a grammatical slip, rather a plain old-fashioned poorly-researched inaccuracy. As a conspiracy theorist, I am yet to decide whether this has been placed deliberately in the hope that someone will point it out… or whether it’s just sloppy writing.

  3. An interesting post. I also received this NHS letter, and almost immediately discarded it because it was confusingly presented and I wasn’t sure what steps I had to take to opt-out of the process. But then I came to the conclusion that the NHS had very deliberately decided to frame their letter in this way. It is, doubtless, easier and cheaper for them if people do not object to their records being computerised. So, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think what the NHS did was a very well thought-through and brilliantly constructed piece of public communication, which will ultimately save them time and money. So, perhaps, we should thank them for this appalling piece of communication. Which isn’t something I would normally say, of course, because – for me – a consistently direct, honest and easy to understand approach is absolutely the best approach to solving gnarly problems.

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