Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Don't dress up as Captain Obvious this Halloween

One of my pet peeves in writing and speaking is obviousness. If possible, don't tell me what I already know. Of course, some obvious information might be needed to introduce new material or used as background later in the story, and that's fine, but obvious information shouldn't dominate a story.

Here's an example of a headline I saw Wednesday from Yahoo News:

Northeast struggling to get back to normal

Ya think?

It has been less than 36 hours since Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst storms in U.S. history, did major damage to New York City, New Jersey and other areas. So, some editor decides it would be a good idea to go with the stale and overused "struggles to get back to normal" headline. The only thing more obvious (and more cliche) is "(insert city here) begins to clean up."

Another area of obviousness is photo captions, especially regarding sports photos. I can't tell you how many times I've seen photos of baseball pitchers with the caption: John Smith pitches the ball in Tuesday night's game against Jonesville. In many cases, it's not necessary to tell me what someone is doing in a photo - I can usually figure that out for myself. Tell me who the person is, what group the person is with, when the event happened, the result of the event and other information, such as statistics or the highlight of the event, that can't be seen in the photo.

Writing or saying the obvious is a sign of laziness. Usually, the cure to obviousness is specificity. If you don't generalize, you'll have a much better chance not stating what is apparent to everyone.

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