It seems to me more than strange that we celebrate a budget that superficially appears fairer than the last. It may line more pockets and stimulate the economy, but where is any vision for the future? But it is worse than that. Hidden within this budget is a lack of resourcing to the very fields we most need to foster if we are to secure our future. By neglecting funding to education, science and the arts, this government demonstrates its indifference to tackle the threats that challenge our society and planet. Education is the future of any nation—it breeds the scientists and artists of tomorrow. Without scientists, we cannot find solutions to these challenges: without artists, we cannot cultivate the creativity we need to apply those solutions. Intergenerational theft? You betcha.
Some years ago I did a certificate in Women’s Studies. I wasn’t really quite sure what to do with my life, having taken time out to have three kids in three different countries. How would I return to a vastly different workforce—Australia in the 1990s—to the one I had left in Amsterdam in the late 1970s? I’d never considered I’d become a writer!
My Women’s Studies lecturer was Kerry Heysen, granddaughter-in-law of the famous landscape painter and wife of Scott Hicks. It was a demanding and challenging course, reflected in the high attrition rate: only six of us remained of the original 24 hopeful enrolees.
Battle weary, but considerably wiser, we celebrated our graduation with a dinner at which Kerry presented us all with golden fairy wands and a personal letter. I had worked hard on this course, delving into research on the diverse lived experiences of women in other times and different places. It had certainly expanded my outlook on life. So I was a bit distressed on receiving my letter from Kerry.
‘I despair of you Susanne’, it began. ‘I don’t know what you will do with your life. You are so interested in and curious about everything. I don’t know how you will settle on a career that will satisfy you.’
I pondered over this and still do. But I am certain I made the right choice. As a writer, particularly one who combines this with research, I can explore everything! I can be a lifelong learner and relish it!
When I did my degree in professional writing, I wondered what on earth I would write about. One thing was for certain: I did not want to lock myself into a niche. But then along came opportunities to work with the state education department. And what could be better?
Education offers a pretty vast and diverse playground to explore, bringing in neuroscience and all those curriculum areas about places and times and cultures. It invites you to think in all sorts of ways: like a scientist, a detective, an artist or a mathematician.
So here I am, nearly 20 years later, fully satisfied with my choice and eager for the next challenge. The older I get, the more I realise the less I know. There’s a whole smorgasbord out there—and it’s all ripe for the exploration. Perfect sustenance for a curious mind!
Writing that is lively and engaging is writing for clarity: it will capture your audience! But how do you do that?
One of my most valuable word processing tools is the word count function: I flog it like a work horse every time I write. It’s amazing how you can tighten your writing if you enforce a word limit on your writing. Very easily we become bogged down by words and phrases that could be expressed more succinctly and economically. But imposing the discipline of a word count ensures that every word has to pull its weight and do its work.
Bureaucratic writing often suffers not only from passive writing, but also from obtuse words and phrases. This can be heavy going for a reader. Writing for clarity and using an active voice not only makes it more engaging, but also reduces the number of words. Readers can skip from phrase to phrase and focus on what you are saying rather than getting hindered by how you are saying it.
Let’s look at a real life example:
‘High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.’
Hmmm! What does that mean? How often did you need to read it? Doesn’t that tell you something about the clarity of the writing? And it might suggest a number of things about the writer: they needed to fill a word count but didn’t have much to say; they wanted to impress their boss with a number of weasel words*; or maybe they didn’t really want their reader to understand after all!
If you really want your audience to understand, why not write:
‘Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.’
Just look at how much easier that is to understand—I can move on to the next sentence!
If you check every phrase and prune every sentence, making sure that every word is doing its work, you’ll find your writing far clearer as well as more lively and engaging.
Want to know more? This is an extract from the Writing and editing workshops run by Infoquest Pty Ltd.