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Compensating for the Shortcomings of the Written Word
Written communication lacks the subtle tonalities of the spoken language, as demonstrated in this humorous ad in which a single word is said 15 times with a slightly different meaning each time. Writers must compensate for these deficiencies by providing detail and context and selecting their words precisely.
Marshall Parrent, Instructor, Chattanooga State Community College
Courses Taught English Composition I, English Composition II, World Literature
Original Source Bud Lite
Suggested forEnglish Composition I
- After completing the lesson, students will be able to list important differences between the written and the spoken word in the way they convey meaning.
- They will learn techniques writers use to compensate for lack of tonality and context in the written word.
- They will appreciate the importance of choosing words precisely and providing sufficient context and detail to convey the meaning.
- Discuss with the class the differences between the spoken and written word.
- Play the video clip for the class and point out that a transcript could not convey the narrative or tone of the video ("Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude.").
- Now play the video again and ask them to interpret the meaning of the first few “dudes.”
- What clues do they use to understand the meaning?
- Give the students a short in-class assignment. Play the video again and select several “dude” segments (the ones in which the meaning is most obvious).
- Each student must write a few sentences describing the scene.
- Have students read their descriptions. Is it obvious from their writing what “dude” means? If not, what details would they need to add to their descriptions to accurately convey the meaning?
- Finally, discuss with students the fact that a word may mean one thing to a writer but another to his or her readers. If writers use ambiguous words, they should do so consciously and purposefully; otherwise, they should select words with a clear meaning and provide sufficient context.
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