July 24, 2010

Obfuscate clearly!

Quite frequently — sometimes even in so many words — I find myself compelled to give clients some classic advice from Strunk and White:

Obfuscate clearly!

Actually, I have not succeeded in finding the edition in which I recall seeing that phrasing. Probably it was the second, which I presume Paul Kedrosky also had. But in a a subsequent edition somebody (presumably White, as Strunk was long deceased) wrote similarly in their name:

Be clear.

Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. … since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. Even to a writer who is being intentionally obscure or wild of tongue we can say, “Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!” Even to writers of market letters, telling us (but not telling us) which securities are promising, we can say, “Be cagey plainly! Be elliptical in a straightforward fashion!”

Clarity, clarity, clarity.

What makes me think of this dictum most often is not marketing collateral per se, but rather product naming and description. Worst of all can be the names of particular portions of a marketecture diagram. Now, I am on record as believing that all product category names are flawed. But while some vagueness or ambiguity may be unavoidable, there is no reason for names to be meaningless or downright misleading.


23 Responses to “Obfuscate clearly!”

  1. Daniel L Weinreb on July 25th, 2010 10:16 am

    I highly recommend the book “Simple and Direct” by Jacques Barzun, for anyone who wants to learn how to write well.

    (It’s not relevant to modern product names and category names; it’s about writing in general.)

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