CODA: Hard Writing Makes Easy Reading

Posted on April 25, 2022 at 12:18 PM by Ashley Hunt


“Hard writing makes easy reading.”  Wallace Stegner


I write this first message in memory of Dudley G. Luckett--mentor, colleague, and friend.  Dr. Luckett was my major professor for my master’s degree at Iowa State University.  Later he was my colleague in the economics department at Iowa State.  He was a well read “renaissance man” with wide-ranging interests--the consummate gentleman scholar who impacted scores of students and colleagues.  He passed away in January 2020 at the age of 91 after a distinguished 37-year career at Iowa State.  To me he was always Dr. Luckett.  He insisted that I call him Dudley after I joined him as a colleague, even though that didn’t seem quite right.

So now to the point.  Wallace Earle Stegner (1909–1993) was an American novelist, short story writer, environmentalist, and historian, often called "The Dean of Western Writers".   He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977.   Among others, he is credited with the quote, “Hard writing makes easy reading.”  I was introduced to the quote by Dr. Luckett as we processed my master’s thesis.  

I spent months writing my thesis and my wife Linda carefully typed it on an IBM Selectric to be letter perfect without correction tape.  She produced three carbon copies, and I proudly presented it to Professor Luckett for his review and approval.  I anxiously awaited my conversation with him and was crestfallen to see my masterpiece covered with markups.  It was blood red.

Dr. Luckett sensed my disappointment and proceeded patiently to go through all of his edits and comments.  At the end, he gently said, “Duane, just remember that ‘hard writing makes easy reading’.”  I returned to my desk and proceeded to revise the thesis several times from the perspective of the reader, not the writer.  As the reader, I kept returning to the page to force myself to new levels of brevity and clarity.  That painful thesis lesson stayed with me for a lifetime.  Over the years, I have often struggled to write and re-write a paragraph to make it read well.

As with most of us, I have had little formal education in grammar and composition beyond the standard classes in high school and college.  I have forgotten split infinitives, dangling participles, and unclear antecedents.  Over the years, however, I have come to be able to identify just what sounds right.  Read your work aloud.  Set it aside to come back to later.  Work on it until it sounds right.

In today’s world of casual speech and writing, we have developed many bad communication habits.  Email messages of misspelled words and phrases, no capital letters, and missing punctuation marks reinforce the perception of lack of attention to detail and convey an acceptance of carelessness.  PowerPoint presentations hide the background thought and documentation behind simple and abbreviated statements.  My go-to source is still The Chicago Manual of Style.  Look it up and get it right!

As an entrepreneur, you need to be able to write well to both raise capital and to communicate with your investors.  Do your readers a favor and spend plenty of time in conveying your ideas and thoughts to the written page.  It will make you more persuasive and more successful.  Be driven for accuracy in spelling and punctuation.  Mistakes in the little things will cause your readers to question your attention to detail in the big things.  Take pride in your written words.

Until next time, happy and effective writing.