There was an article in this Sunday’s paper about the upcoming tour of West Side Story. One sentence made me stop and re-read it a number of times. (Quoting David Saint) “(And) Bernstein wanted to be remembered as a great classical composer, but he said, ‘I’m very aware that on my tombstone it will say, “The man who wrote ‘West Side Story.’”’” The punctuation that ended that sentence just made my gears come to a screeching halt.
(By the way, I realize that, for me to have actually punctuated my quotation of the quotation correctly I would have needed to add one more set of nested quotation marks. But that seemed a little like putting sugar on the sprinkles on the icing of the fudge cake. Besides, I didn’t have the heart to end the sentence with”‘”’”’”. Further notice that, in quoting what the quotation marks would have looked like, I had to add another set of nested quotation marks just to show the nesting of the quotation marks. See why I skipped it in the first place?)
I checked the sentence two or three times in order to ensure it had been written correctly. Finally assured it was correct, I went on with the article. But my mind kept wandering to that strangely constructed sentence.
Which reminded me of one of the things I do when I am proofreading any writing. (Yes, even my own.) If, as I read, there is anywhere – any one word or piece of punctuation or a dangling paragraph or a strangely turned phrase – that makes me screech to a halt, unsure if I heard it correctly or read it correctly or wondering if the writer knew what had been written, I will ensure someone goes back and works diligently to make the changes necessary for a smoother passage through that passage.
Because, whenever something in the writing makes a reader stop in his or her reading tracks because the sentence didn’t ring true or sounded wrong or felt wrong or caused some niggling little pain to the brain, then that reader has stopped comprehending what has been written, and begins to remember they are looking at words on paper. They forget they are being communicated to and start to feel written at. And, at that point, you have a reader who is no longer comprehending what has been written.
I think auditors very often are so busy trying to get in the facts and the figures and the business terms and the auditese and the highfalutin phrases that make them feel self-important, that they forget there is an audience out there.
Take this simple test. Read what you have written and watch for two things. One, make sure there isn’t something in there that makes you stop what you’re reading to try and figure out what is being said. (You wrote it and, if you can’t figure it out, no one can). Two, make sure that, when you are done, you are not taking pride in the way it was written. Instead, take pride in that it said what it needed to say without getting in the way of itself.