Illogical Writing: The Root Cause

Logic. Logic lays the foundation for any piece of writing. Novelists build their stories around the scaffolding of reality; even sci-fi writers must adhere to the rules they establish in their alternate worlds. Technical and professional writers use facts and organization to frame user documents. If the work shows the writer’s ignorance of the subject, contradicts itself, or dog-piles seemingly unrelated information, the writing crumbles, and the reader drifts.

On Thursday I cited three examples of illogical writing. Here they are again:

From a user’s guide:
3. Enter your name, address, and contact information in the dialog box.
4. Click OK.
The information is saved in the dialog box.

From a commercial for Nutrisystem:
“It’s pretty much one step: Eat the food. Lose the weight.”

From a radio ad for Rosetta Stone. 
“I believe I can do anything, so when it came to learning a new language, I knew I had to do it the way I learn.”

Each example defies logic uniquely. The first, “The information is saved in the dialog box,” states something false. (No software saves information in its user interface.) The second contradicts itself. (One step? “Eat the food. Lose the weight” sounds like two steps to me.) The third is simply a non sequitur:  (Being able to “learn anything” has no apparent relationship to having to learn a second language a certain way.)

These are mere symptoms, though: the problem is the writer’s failure to analyze her own work. Think about it: In reading the examples of illogical writing I gave you, didn’t you see the problems? All you had to do was look.

Writers don’t always do that. Some editors don’t either. How many staffers read Nutrisystem’s copy before they filmed the commercial, for example, and yet missed the obvious contradiction?

Write. Analyze the text. Then rewrite. That’s three steps. But those three steps will keep you from publishing atrocities like, “It’s pretty much one step….”

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