Clarity, simplicity and positivity improve your writing

My wife is a mile smarter than I am, so when she found herself perplexed by this CNN alert, I knew I had no chance:

We flipped to the CNN app and found a much better explanation of what happened:

It’s not perfect, but it’s a keeper for three key reasons:

1) It’s simple: In most cases, when people are not feeling confident about their handle on a situation or their writing prowess, they tend to overwrite. It’s that idea of putting 95 condiments on a burger to cover up the fact you burned it on the grill. Instead, this second explanation just tells me what happened.

2) It’s direct: Noun-Verb-Object is the Holy Trinity of writing, whether it is the basis of a headline, the core of a lead or the guts of a tweet. In this case we know who (Kansas) did what (votes) to whom/to what or for whom/for what (to keep right to abortion). The news alert is also written in Noun-Verb-Object structure (voters reject measure) but it isn’t as direct with exactly what that measure is all about.

3) It’s positive: Before folks start flooding SAGE with angry emails about me, I’m not taking a position on the issue itself being positive. What I mean is that the declaration is positive, which makes it easier to understand. When you have a negative in a sentence, it not only reverses the entire concept of the sentence, but it forces the reader to rethink the concept at hand. That complexity can mess with your readers, particularly if you find that there are multiple negative elements in a sentence.

Amy and I noticed this happens a lot when it comes to bond measures or legal wrangling we are asked to vote on during election season and it drives us to distraction. When we see a sentence like, “Do you opposed the removal of the portion of state law that prohibits people who are not residents of Wisconsin to avoid paying taxes on in-state purchases during non-tourism seasons?” we basically give up.

In the alert, we note a rejection to remove, so you’ve essentially got two negative concepts: rejection and removal. That’s what initially caught Amy and that’s what had me checking the web for some sort of clarification. Grade-school grammar teaches us to avoid double negatives in general (“He didn’t not eat the pie.”) but we tend to forget it when we get beyond the easy examples. Making this positive like the headline did would have improved things substantially.

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