How Your High School English Class is Ruining Your Proposals (Don’t get me started on MBAs)


Ah, high school english class. A time to read classic literature, build your vocabulary and learn to write proper essays. Reading great literature is wonderful, but the latter 2 goals were often in conflict. Because the way teachers measure your essays was in part based on how many fancy vocabulary words to you could cram into them. Using big words not only improved your grade, it also took up space, getting you closer to the critical 5 page minimum. However, this push to utilize advanced diction, albeit to the detriment of semantic transfer, makes for awful writing.
I don’t remember many of the books I read in high school, but one that sticks in my mind, ironically, is an essay by George Orwell, called Politics and the English Language. (Also note Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing.) You may wonder what this has to do with sales, but remember politics is simply sales of a different sort.
Orwell noted how vague language made it easier to describe, and therefore commit, political atrocities. I wasn’t committing any atrocities, except perhaps against the English language. I took a writing course my first semester in college and got quite a rude awakening. Pages came back redder than a murder victim in a Law and Order episode. Whole paragraphs were called “unnecessary garbage”, superfluous words and clauses, which my high school teachers seemed to reward, came back with red lines through them. It was great. For a brief time, I learned to write clean, crisp, compelling papers. I focused on clarity of thought, transmitted through the proper words, to the reader.