LawProse Lesson #384: The differences between speech and writing.

LawProse Lesson #384: The differences between speech and writing.

Many years ago, Judge Jerome Frank of the Second Circuit wrote that writing is essentially “speech heightened and polished.” Writing is what you would say if you talked ideally. It should be the equivalent of speech at considered leisure.

At its best, then, prose is always natural-sounding to the reader’s ear—to the mind’s ear.

There are three major differences between speech and writing: (1) More time is allowed for speech than for writing; (2) speech allows for greater spontaneity and improvisation, especially from reacting to listeners; and (3) a speaker’s presence adds meaning that is absent from writing. Integral to the speaker’s message are gestures, vocal tone and volume, facial expressions, and posture.

This third point gets to the nub: writers must rely on words alone. They must compensate for physical absence exclusively in the words they address to readers.

So you can’t write exactly as you talk even if you wish to make everything you write speakable. No. You must instead load into your written words—and into words alone—something that corresponds to the flash in your eyes, your smile, your nodding head, your gestures, and the variations in voice and other traces of acting that you would convey if present.

You can do these things not with wild typography but only with skillful phrasing. You must have a firm grasp not just on what to say but on how best to say it. It’s a matter of cultivated skill, not some inborn “gift.” The skill is learned, not inherited.

At LawProse, we seek to reach those who understand these things. They’re highly motivated to enhance their communicative skill.

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