Vocabulary: This is the foundational point—every other thing rests on it. What is the capacity of your vocabulary? Do you have a rich store of words? Is your pool of phrases and expressions deep? How is your mastery of communication principles? Can you read at least one book in a month? Can you write a clinical 1,000-word analysis or editorial on any given topic within 60 minutes? When and where can colleagues of yours bank on your professional capabilities and skills? The only way to measure your competency in information gathering, management and dissemination is to score at least 50 in each of the foregoing posers. Anything short of that margin is sub-standard and demands improvement.
There are six categories of readers: (A): Those who read at least a book in a month; (B): Those who read at least a book in three months; (C): Those who read at least a book in six months; (D): Those who read at least a book in nine months; (E): Those who read at least a book in a year; and (F): Those who do not read at all! Where do you belong? This is at the heart of vocabulary build-up. If you need to be a referential fellow in communication, you must read—it is not optional. Otherwise, you are confined to communicative artisanship! Writing is not mechanistic. It is architectural in nature: it must be planned, organized and systematically presented.
You must have a mini-library at home and in the office indispensably containing at least a current dictionary, thesaurus, Bible/Quran (for spiritual regeneration), and a modern book of quotations. These are companionable materials. You must study (peruse)—not just read—them daily, morning and night. Meditate on them. Learn at least a new word (and its synonyms) or phrase or idiomatic expression each day. Familiarize yourself with each addition: as much as possible scarcely employ those you have internalized over time. Let your writings/speeches exude novelties and freshness (the difference should be that between crisp and worn-out notes). Write and speak with confidence—no man is infallible! Not even Shakespeare. Only God has exclusive infallibility.
Listen to good speakers on radio and TV. Attend colloquia, conferences, symposia, seminars, workshops, short-term courses and any other cerebral meeting. Participation in these sessions adds immeasurable value to your overall scope and knowledge base. Do not wait for your employers to send you or depend on external intervention (sponsorship). No, invest in yourself, periodically, even if sacrificially!
Finally, read voraciously. Be conversant with general and professional developments locally and internationally. Network reasonably and leverage all its concomitants. Good writing skill is a function of self-development and commitment to cerebral matters. Nobody can do it for you.
For inexplicable reasons, some expressions have become institutionalized in this part of the world and rabidly known as Nigerian English. This is unacceptable in any formal/standard writing. Somewhat, these informal collocations creep into the print and electronic media. In fact, it is so bad that at times purists begin to doubt themselves because of the ubiquity of these informal creations! Newspaper language is elevated, formal and standard. Any other entry outside this is colloquialism and should not be allowed in standard and respectable publications. The audiences of major print and electronic media comprise the elite in business, governance, politics and the academia. You cannot afford to be like the floundering, ragtag media outlets on the fringes and provincial government mouthpieces that thrive on junk and vainglorious yellow journalism.
You must develop yourself in such way that you become critical of any written work, no matter the author or the apparent perfection. Once you attain this level, it becomes easier to spot blunders and improve on even well-written materials. To reach this height will require compliance with the foregoing and other germane issues that are not captured here which are available in any standard and pertinent textbook.
We must be conversant with new media technologies and their usages: Google, Yahoo!, facebook, twitter, in, YouTube, Dictionary.com, Answers.com, other social network sites and multifarious online portals too numerous to be mentioned here. Conventional communication methodology is giving way to this latest technological onslaught.
Your choice of words, their organization and your style determine your sentence and paragraphs and ultimately what are cumulatively known as syntax, lexis and structure in grammar. Once these foundational collaterals (parts of speech, word formation/usage, sentence construction, paragraph harmonization, spelling, punctuation and sequence) are faulty at any point in the lexical equity chain, communicative dysfunction sets in. So, instead of ‘big words,’ use simple ones. Clarity is critical to writing—don’t write to impress anyone with verbosity that ends up inevitable in cloudy thinking and meaningless output. Needless or worthless verbiage is antithetical to good writing. Always remember that simplicity is the soul of writing.
Any of the above sub-heads is the greatest enemy of classical writing and fine prose that flourishes. They diminish the flow of reading and quality of literary work. Avoid them as much as you can—in fact, as the bible says, flee from them lest they lead you into poor craftsmanship and ruin you irredeemably! You will not be there with the various audiences to explain the inevitability of the blunder. Overall, cultivate tight writing—it forecloses errors.
If you do not understand the foregoing basic principles, rules and grammar of the English language, you may not go far professionally in the business of public communication. Even if you circumstantially (or, as they say, accidentally!) do, the quality of your work will inevitably underscore people’s perception of you and your reputational reckoning—including, by extrapolation, that of your medium or whatever channel of information dissemination you use.
“THE figures from ARCON say Nigeria spends a whooping (whopping) N1trn on importation of rice, wheat, sugar and fish, annually.” (DAILY Sun Editorial, October 4)
“You can achieve your potentials (potential)…” (South West News, October 4) ‘Potential’ is uncountable, but ‘potentiality’ is countable (potentialities).
“Shake up (Shake-up) as army reshuffles General”
“…in a warm handshake after making presentations at the ongoing 23rd Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja, yesterday.” (BUSINESS Page Caption, October 11) Does the reader need to know whether the handshake was warm or cold? In any case, how did the sub-editor know the degree of handshake? This is like the work of a kindergartner!