The Secret of Uncommonness

When writing only paraphrases words, phrases, ideas and concepts familiar to us, we often perceive it as boring and dull. If, on the other hand, writing consists mostly of words, phrases, ideas and concepts that are unfamiliar to us, we often perceive it as complex, difficult or even incomprehensible.

The secret of uncommonness therefore must be found in right balance between what is familiar and what is not. The following rules of thumb can guide in finding such a balance:

Begin with the Common and End with the Uncommon

A text is often easier to understand when it begins with familiar, easy and common concepts and introduces more complex and unfamiliar concepts afterward (Booth, Williams, and Colomb, 2003).

Use the Uncommon Sparsely

Think of the uncommon as some precious extra-glitter for your writing – but extra glitter which comes at a price. Since, usually, an uncommon word or concept needs to be couched in careful explanation. The more uncommon the more explanation might be required, which increases the length of your text.

Use the Uncommon to Emphasize Concepts of Particular Importance

The uncommon will stand out from your writing, and it is what the reader is most likely to remember. This makes using uncommon words and ideas to accompany ideas of particular importance an interesting choice. However, note that the key idea here should be to accompany rather than to express these ideas; since very important ideas should always be explained in the simplest way possible.

Using uncommon words, phrases and ideas is one of the most powerful tool a writer can wield in giving writing its final polish. However, like all powerful tools, it should be applied with caution. Understandability should, in my opinion, always be the key objective of most forms of writing and the uncommon easily gets in the way of this goal.

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