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Assiduous? Really?

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Frank Schultz
June 29, 2012

The way government communicates with the people is important. It could mean the difference between life-saving information reaching its target and a bunch of angry people.

Government often has complicated information it wants people to know about, but that’s no excuse for rambling, complicated or pretentious announcements. The test of a good writer is how well she can communicate complex matters in plain English.

Which brings me to the Rock County Sheriff’s Office. I often work with these public servants, and they are generally good at communicating in person. They need to be good, because they are dealing with some of the gravest matters possible, including people’s reputations and lives. So I was disappointed when a fellow journalist pointed out this statement, which is attached to the sheriff’s office’s Twitter account:

“Twitter assists in bringing to fruition our assiduous commitment of informing the citizens of Rock County to urgent, informative law enforcement news.”

Yikes. Where to start? First of all, watch your prepositions. This sentence says they want to inform us “to urgent … news.” They can inform us OF urgent news or ABOUT urgent news, but “to” just doesn’t work.

Same deal with “commitment of informing the citizens…” One has a commitment TO do something, but “commitment of,” which may not be actually wrong in some instances, sounds clunky and strained here.

And “informative news”? Think about it. News is, by definition, informative. “Informative” is not needed here. It’s redundant and superfluous, to use a couple of high-falutin’ words.

Then there’s “assiduous commitment.” The meaning here is that the sheriff’s office is persistent in its commitment, that it never stops trying to live up to its commitment. But “assiduous”? Really?

Would a sheriff’s deputy get into a squad at the start of her shift and assure her colleagues that she will be assiduous in his pursuit of protecting the public? I don’t think so. Would she tell a tavern owner that she is being assiduous in seeking violations when she performs a walk-through of the tavern? Well maybe, but only if she wanted to make fun of people who use that kind of bureaucratic speech.

Don’t try to sound fancy and educated. It only makes people think you’re TRYING to sound fancy and educated, which defeats the purpose. Use words most people can understand. Check those fancy words with a dictionary. You may find that they don’t mean what you thought they meant.

I hope this blog entry assists you in bringing to fruition sentences that are efficacious and infused with meaning. I also hope the sheriff’s office takes this with a sense of humor. I have to work with these folks. I’m going outside now to make sure my taillights are working.



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