The investigation concerns the actions of (the accused), a 24 year veteran of the… County Sheriff’s office who shot (the victim) in an unincorporated area just outside (the jurisdiction) on (the date).
Now to many, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this sentence. It is reasonably clear that the author is referring to the location of the shooting. However, I’m of a generation that was taught in grammar school how to diagram sentences and this particular sentence had me chuckling and wondering just what part of the body was “an unincorporated area”.
Before you write me off as another nitpicker, recall that one of the three basic skills required of an emergency manager is the ability to write persuasively. We are frequently the authors of important reports and summaries as well as the originators public warnings. It is important, therefore, that we are both precise and concise in our writing.
There is a good reason for this. We live in a world in which much of our messaging is now stripped down to 144 characters or less or given in short soundbites. We need to be able to condense our messages to the shortest possible size that still preserves clarity.
But this is nothing new. Anyone who’s written a report knows that senior executives rarely read past the first page of the executive summary. Advertisers both in print and online know how important it is to get your message “above the fold”. In print journalism, this means the upper section of the publication that is first seen by the reader. To online marketers, this means the section of the screen that can be seen without scrolling down.
It behooves us, then, to keep in mind that language should be a precision instrument and not a blunt one. This means considering carefully what you are saying not only from your perspective but from that of the recipient. You need to be certain that what they are hearing is what you actually meant to say. Taking the time to review your message or, even better, have others review it if time permits will go a long way towards preventing miscommunication.
Not just don’t get me started talking about terms such as “free range eggs” and “organic produce”…