Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences…― William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style
Many of us writers grew up teething on The Elements of Style and still consider it our bible today. Sometimes, though, it is important to note that the original version of that book was written in 1919– almost a hundred years ago.
Without a doubt, language and writing has changed since then and perhaps more importantly, the medium of writing has expanded in previously unfathomable ways. Could Professor Strunk or E.B. White have imagined such a thing as a blog?
In my last blog post, I talked about a generational increase in the casualness of our writing. Blogging has both influenced and been shaped by this trend–for the better in my opinion.
Blogging is one of the best forms of content marketing for medical practices precisely because of its less formal tone. It effectively bridges the gap between the complexity and formality of medicine and the sensibility of the average person. In other words, it makes medicine more accessible.
And just like a good bed-side manner, this means a lot to patients. It allows them to be more involved in their own care, and it often affects who they choose to take care of them.
In today’s post I want to talk about phatic expressions and how they can help us make our blog posts even more relatable and bring the writer and reader together even more.
Phatic expressions are phrases or bits of language we use everyday that don’t themselves have significant meaning but perform a social function. Here are some examples:
- Let’s face it
- If you get right down to it
- Shall we say
- I can’t help but wonder
- It turns out
- When all is said and done
- For some reason
- For that matter
- If you know what I mean
- As unlikely as it may seem
- Not to mention
And there are many many more.
Phrases like these can be placed most anywhere in a sentence, and when they are removed they don’t significantly change the meaning. And, in so much as these phrases don’t carry much meaning themselves, I am afraid that Strunk and White might not have approved of them.
But these phrases do play an important role in the tone and flavor of writing, and they are terrific for furthering the role of the blog as a bridge between clinician and patient.
They have a social function in that they remind the reader that the writer is a person with his or her own thoughts and opinions: as with “It seems to me,” or “to my relief.”
Start any sentence with a phatic expression like “Let’s face it…” and you are communicating a frank commonality in understanding between you and the reader. It is a way to say, “I feel your pain.”
Phatic expressions create more intimacy between the reader and writer. In some cases, they make the reader feel as if they are being let in on something confidential: as with “if truth be known,” or “just between us. ”
They also can be used to slow the reader down to prepare them for some conclusion or important point you don’t want them to miss. For example, “I know you have heard many stories of people getting sick, but as unlikely as it may seem, the flu shot does not give you the flu.”
So, in conclusion, just between us, if truth be known, a few extra meaningless words can be a good thing sometimes, as unlikely as that may seem.