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Writing Style Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

The Effect of Description and Detail

In business, what some people call "flowery" style—lots of description and detail—is almost never appropriate. Why? Because in business, as they say, "time is money," so readers don't want to spend time reading lengthy descriptions or extensive detail. They just want the facts: when the meeting will be held and where; what the new product is designed to do and how much it costs; how the new training manual is coming along. In most cases, the more straightforward, the better.

Other times, however, when they want readers to imagine a situation or to experience something through language, writers need a "flowery" style. That is, they need a high degree of description and detail. The following two passages show the difference. Both describe the same appointment, but in two very different styles. One is written in a style appropriate to business and records only the facts. The other describes the meeting in a style appropriate for general readers interested in the feelings of the people involved.

Passage A

Yesterday at 10:00 a.m., Mark Spencer held a press conference. Eleanor Cartwright was present as well. Mr. Spencer talked about upcoming events at the Smithfield Museum of Art, where he is Director. Then he announced that Eleanor Cartwright had just been appointed Director of Development. This new position was created due to the planned building of a new wing, which will house the significant art collection that was donated to the Smithfield Museum last year. Mr. Spencer outlined Ms. Cartwright's qualifications and introduced her to the press. She discussed plans for the new wing, and she also took several questions from reporters before the press conference ended.

Passage B

Yesterday at 10:00 a.m., Mark Spencer, the popular Director of the Smithfield Museum of Art, held a press conference. The room was buzzing with reporters as Mr. Spencer took the podium. Standing to his right was a striking woman in a crimson suit. Mr. Spencer first discussed the soon-to-be-launched artist-in-residence program as well as the upcoming annual fundraising dinner, which has been the hottest ticket in town ever since Mr. Spencer came to the Smithfield.

The room was thick with curiosity as Mr. Spencer turned toward the mysterious woman and invited her to join him at the podium. Mr. Spencer then spoke in an excited and genuine tone, "I'm delighted to introduce to you the new Director of Development of the Smithfield Museum, Ms. Eleanor Cartwright." Mr. Spencer explained that this position was created due to the building of the new wing, for which construction is scheduled to start soon. The wing will house the impressive and significant art collection of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Buckner, which was donated to the museum last year. Mr. Spencer listed Ms. Cartwright's impressive credentials as the reporters hung on every word. Finally, Ms. Cartwright took the podium and wowed everyone with details about the new wing. She also took several questions. By the time she was done, everyone in attendance was charmed by her wit and sophistication, and they left the room convinced that the Smithfield Museum, once barely known, was truly becoming a major force in the art world.

Now, write down your observations about these two passages below. How are these two versions different? What did you notice about the sentence structure? About the degree of description and detail? About the degree of formality?

The Effect of Description and Detail Practice and Answers

Practice

  1. Which version tells you more about Mark Spencer?
    1. passage A
    2. passage B
  2. Which version tells you more about Eleanor
    1. passage A
    2. passage B
  3. Which version is more objective?
    1. passage A
    2. passage B
  4. Which version makes you feel excited about Eleanor Cartwright's appointment?
    1. passage A
    2. passage B

Answers

You noticed, of course, that passage B is much more descriptive than passage A—it tells you more about both Mark Spencer and Eleanor Cartwright. Passage A just provides the facts—specific details, but no description. Passage A is very objective. We do not learn anything about Mark Spencer other than his job title. For example, we don't know how people feel about him. In passage A, we also learn very little about Eleanor Cartwright other than her new job. We don't know what she looks like or how people in the room respond to her.

Passage B, however, tells us about Mark Spencer's reputation ("popular" and responsible for making the annual fundraising dinner "the hottest ticket in town"). Passage B also provides many details about Eleanor Cartwright ("striking woman in a crimson suit," "impressive credentials"). We also learn a good deal about the general tone of the room and how this announcement was received ("the room was buzzing," "reporters hung on her every word," "they left the room convinced that the Smithfield Museum, once barely known, was truly becoming a major force in the art world"). All these details help us feel something about the announcement and the people involved because the characters and the situation are presented visually; we can almost see what happens.

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