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Guide to bad writing

This blog post is prompted by the wonderful words of the PR people in DBS/POSB about the ATM disruption reported in MSM today. She/He said that “a small number’’ of ATMs were “intermittently impacted by a connectivity issue’’. So customers might have “experienced issues’’.

Some people have suggested that that’s the way business people speak to avoid liability and litigation, so we should forgive them. They just don’t want to lose money. It’s like saying that’s the G speaks in a certain way to avoid losing votes – and it is therefore understandable too.

I don’t buy it. But that’s just me. In any case, let me help the PR people along with this Guide to Bad Writing.

  1. Why use a short word when a long one is so much better at impressing people who don’t even know what it means?
  2. Always be ambiguous so people don’t know what you are talking about – and when you don’t know what you are talking about.
  3. Reach for the oft-used phrase because people’s eyes tend to glaze over clichés.
  4. Write sentences with multiple meanings so you can always tell someone they got your meaning wrong/right.
  5. There is no such thing as a problem. Everything is a challenge. Of course, everything can be improved so you must always meet challenges that will FURTHER improve, bring to a HIGHER level and BETTER enhance anyone’s “experience’’.
  6. Issue is a very good word and can be laid at the door of anything that goes wrong. So there are “human’’ issues, “technical’’ issues, “administrative’’ issues, “engineering’’ issues and “connectivity’’ issues. Nobody will take issue with you over the issue.
  7. Try to “-ise’’ everything. Like synergise, energise, urbanise. No one will realise that what you are saying is a compromise.
  8. Only say that you are sorry for inconveniencing someone or if you have hurt someone. Never say sorry for being stupid or careless.
  9. Statistics are good because numbers can lie. So always compare something with something really very bad, like how your company is doing as compared to when Sars hit or during the Asian financial crisis.
  10. Proportions are good too. If four in five Singaporeans love National Service, it sounds better than one in five. And one in five is better than saying 1 million people.
  11. Never pin yourself down to a time-frame. Use periodically, regularly if not short-run, medium-term and long range.
  12. Actually, don’t even use “use’’ if you can harness. Like harness resources, energies and goodwill. Because everything can be harnessed if you try hard enough.
  13. Never say someone said if you want him to sound intelligent. Try “expound’’, “elucidated’’ or “opined’’. Second choice: “elaborated’’ or “explained’’. Better still, say he “issued a statement’’.
  14. On statements, if you make a strong enough statement like People don’t/do trust the G, some people will actually take it as fact.
  15. As a matter of fact, you should use “as a matter of fact’’, “the truth of the matter’’, “it is to be believed/recognised/acknowledged’’ and even “Forsooth, in truth’’ so people will know you are not lying.
  16. If you have to talk about something you really don’t want to talk about, use a preamble such as “with regards to the circumstances surrounding…’’, “with reference to the afore-mentioned situation concerning …’’, “in view of the conditions affecting the incident that arose from….’’
  17. Remember to give as little information as possible; just imagine that you are talking to sheep. Better still, try not to  talk to sheep because you’ll look silly.
  18.  Remember that “intensive’’ or “extensive’’ or both, should always come before feedback, consultation, review and deliberation.  After which everything must be monitored “closely’’.
  19. You never suffer a “setback’’. You experience a “slow down’’. And both are “temporary’’.
  20. You never lose any money. You experience a cashflow or liquidity challenge.

 Here’s how to deliver bad news in a worse way. Banks, please note:

With regards to the circumstances surrounding the accidental intermittent usage of our automated teller machines, we have ascertained that this was due to a connectivity issue. This connectivity issue – as distinct from human issue – was immediately investigated and promptly rectified with further improvements to better enhance the customer experience. We apologise if anyone has been inconvenienced by the lack of access to liquidity. Rest assured that we will conduct an extensive review, do intensive due diligence and harness public feedback to synergise our operations to better effect. Only one in five of our customers will be impacted by our on-going review which, truth to tell, is a very small number. Really.


Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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