Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bad Writing

I like reading Marc Andreessen's blog. He has good insight. Today I saw the news about Google's Open Social initiative. I noticed that Ning was a participant, so I figured Marc would have something interesting to say about it. Reading his entry reminded me of many other entries by him and how incredibly annoying his writing style is. Let me give some qualification to this statement.

My 10th grade English teacher, Dr. Deluzain, was really tough. He made all of his students write a lot, and he absolutely tore up everything you wrote. I give him tons of credit for making me into a decent writer. In college, the biggest advantage I had over other Caltech students was not my mathematical abilities, it was my writing skill. Math bailed me out in many situations, and led to my only A+ (in quantum chemistry if you can believe that,) but I was always the best writer in every "soft" (literature, history, political science, etc.) class I took. Thanks Dr. D.

One of the lessons I learned from Dr. Deluzain was that you should never use styling in writing. This was 1991, so word processing had become popular. Of course people wanted to use bold and italics, or large fonts, to drive home points. Dr. D. taught me this was obnoxious and unnecessary. It showed poor skill. If you had to resort to such tactics to emphasize your point, then obviously you were doing so to make up for a lack of writing skill.

Fast forward back to the pmarca blog. Andreessen has to be the worst person I've ever seen at using italics and bold all over the place. Normally I just ignore it. College taught me that most technical people never need to hone their writing skills, so why should Andreessen be any different. The first full paragraph (most of his first few paragraphs are actually just sentences, but I digress) has 102 words in. Of those, 27 words are either bold or italics. Of the other 75 words, 21 are in quotations, which is a similar sign of poor writing (one I'm guilty of too, though it's not quite as bad.) It just makes my head hurt. I hate being a writing snob, but I needed to vent and that's part of what my blog is for.

I dislike writers who can only bring up negatives and never offer solutions to problems. So I decided to re-write his paragraph. I tried to keep his words as much as possible.

"Technically, Open Social is implemented as what I call a plugin API, or a Level 2 platform. In other words, it's not a web services API -- rather, it's a way for external applications to plug into a host environment (container). The external app literally shows up insides the pages of the container, and can make Javascript calls to retrieve information from the container and perform functions within the container. For example you can make a Javascript call to get a list of all of the user's friends, or to inject an event into the user's activity feed."

Isn't actually a lot less work to write it like this? Or has the web redefined good writing style? Maybe my way is antiquated and Marc's is exemplary...

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