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Precision key to education

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Precision key to education

Petress, Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, 9/22/2006

(Ken, “The value of precise language usage,” Reading Improvement, Highbeam Research)

Precision in language usage can be thought of as an ego boosting activity, a snobbish pastime, an arrogant trait; or it can be interpreted as an attempt to aid audiences in understanding exact meaning, an effort to reduce ambiguity, and/or as a positive role model for others in one's language community. This essay argues that the latter set of interpretations are desirable and that we should all make modest efforts to learn how to write and speak more precisely and then to actually practice [most of the time] what we have learned. Reading (like listening) is the reception of and interpretation of messages. In order for readers to garner full impact, power, and intention of messages, the message makers must do all in their ability to aid the eventual receiver. A major component of this message creator duty is to form as precise messages as possible. Language precision eliminates or reduces ambiguity and equivocation (when not intended). (1) As Hayakawa and Hayakawa have convincingly pointed out, precise language aids in adapting appropriately and successfully when needing to employ skills to reach various language levels such as variant age levels, education levels, class structures, and degrees of familiarity to the language being used. (2) Precision is defined as possessing exactitude; the opposite of precise is that which is vague, "close enough," somewhat "fuzzy," and perhaps ambiguous. Precision is not designed to be knit picking, obtuse, a way to show off, nor a way to demonstrate linguistic superiority; it is a way to state directly, clearly, specifically, exactly, and vividly what you mean. Precision does not guarantee that readers or hearers will better understand you or that they will personally appreciate the effort of being precise; however, we stand a better chance of being understood when we are precise.


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