Use familiar words

In a book about writing, Jerry Jenkins asks: “Is there an objective standard for good writing?” His answer: “Probably not, but like most people—I think—I appreciate clean, concise, uncluttered prose that’s easy to read and understand. The most common comment I get is that my writing reads too easily. But that’s intentional. It’s hard work to write clearly.”1

Judging writing is a subjective art. What one person considers good, another person may think is rubbish. I encounter this when editing Japan Harvest—sometimes two editors disagree about the best way to express an idea. Authors and editors periodically clash too.

One issue we’re discussing at Japan Harvest is our policy of using US or Commonwealth English spellings and standards depending on an author’s background and preference. Because we are not based in an English-speaking country and have an international audience, there is no clear answer to this problem. US authors may object to “maths” being used in place of “math” in their writing, just as Commonwealth-background authors might protest about “cilantro” replacing “coriander” (the leaf, used in cooking) in something they’ve written. Therefore we encourage, wherever possible, the use of common words, that is, words that are universally understood.

As Jenkins says, most people like writing that is easy to read. This is difficult, especially when you have an international audience, but it’s a worthwhile goal. You can’t assume that, just because you write something about an important topic, people will read it. You need to make it easy for your audience to access, otherwise they will probably move on to something else.

Wendy Marshall is the managing editor of Japan Harvest. She’s learnt most of what she knows about writing from her international critique group, Truth Talk. She’s Australian and works with OMF International.

1. Jerry B. Jenkins. Writing for the Soul (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2006), 105.

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