Real Words that Work

By Patricia Davies, President, Patricia Davies Communications

Hard Truths (3): The easier to read, the harder to write
If anyone could impress with “hifalutin” (his word) language, it’s Steven Pinker. He is an experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and author of seven books, including How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate. He could match abstract concepts and complex terminology with anyone, but he respects readers too much to flummox them. 
At a recent Harvard lecture he said the main impediment to clear writing is “the curse of knowledge", describing the affliction as “the failure to understand that other people don’t know what you know.” As the Harvard Gazette reported, his lecture defended the “classic style”, which puts readers’ needs for clarity ahead of a writer’s need to impress.  
You can only exorcise the curse through the hard work of rewriting, he told the jammed hall. “Show a draft to a representative reader” to see if the meaning is clear. If not, revise until it is.
I have an added suggestion. When writing your first draft, picture someone whose intelligence you respect but who knows nothing about your topic. Think about that person whenever you launch into a 40-word sentence or a six-syllable term. Then rework the words until they are simple and direct. Yes, it’s painstaking work, but not putting in the effort short-changes readers. Another author succinctly summed up the equation: “Easy writing makes hard reading.” The quote is from Ernest Hemingway.
GPS (Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling) Tips 
In response to reader requests, this column will occasionally include hints on grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS). 
The plural of CEO is CEOs. Don’t add an apostrophe to an acronym, as in CEO’s, unless you want to indicate possession. 
Example: The CEO’s office is on the 68th floor. 
Editor’s Note: This rule also applies to the acronym “BA”.
The BAs gathered for their team meeting. (plural)
There are many useful templates in the BA’s tool kit. (possessive)
Patricia Davies is an award-winning writer and editor, an Endorsed Education Provider with IIBA®, and a regular panelist on the IIBA “Being a BA: Effective Communication” Webinar. Do you have a writing question? Please email to and we’ll try to address it in a future column or webinar.