Classic Advice, “Write Like You Talk,” No Longer Applies

Back when I did business writing workshops at the University of Richmond, I would tell attendees not to worry about remembering all the English rules they learned in school and to just write like they talked. We were educated people, and most of us naturally spoke with passable grammar.

I believe we still do, but conversational speech has become SO loaded with meaningless garbage and nonsensical idioms that I’ve thrown “Write like you talk” on the ash heap of worthless writing advice.

This enlightenment came to me because for the past six years, I’ve been doing transcription as a side gig.

(I recommend transcription if you’re a fast, accurate typist. The content can be varied and fascinating, and if you’re good, the pay’s decent if you hook up with a reputable service.)

Most of the speech I transcribe is so atrocious, if it were ever published, readers would be gouging their eyes out with forks.

I confess I mindlessly pepper my own speech with like and you know too often, and I try to catch myself. But those words aren’t the bulk of my verbal content, like this:

Like, I was trying to like watch this really good movie, you know? And like my dog Barney, you know, he like wouldn’t stop like barking. But like, you know, nothing was like there. It was like so annoying.

Nowhere near as annoying as having to listen to this. And I’m not exaggerating. People do talk like this. You probably know them.

Returning to transcription, there are essentially two ways to do it. To transcribe “Verbatim” means you type EVERY uh, um, like, etc., which can leave you wanting to rip your ears off and put a fist through the wall.

The other protocol is “Standard,” which means you “take out the trash” and transcribe only actual content. It’s possible to raise speakers’ written IQs as much as 50 points simply by omitting their brainless verbal padding.

As a small taste, please have the good sense never to write uh or um unless you’re composing fiction and it’s dialogue for a character who’s an abject moron.

I’ve got a list of pet peeves, and I’m going to discuss them in upcoming posts as a cautionary series on what never to let creep into your writing.Next, I’ll address how the word like oozed into our speech to replace said and why it makes no sense whatsoever.


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2 thoughts on “Classic Advice, “Write Like You Talk,” No Longer Applies

  1. Best Dogs Stuff May 8, 2023 at 8:29 pm Reply

    Loved reading this
    Great post! I completely agree that conversational speech has become filled with meaningless garbage and nonsensical idioms. As someone who also transcribes, I am curious to know if you have noticed any patterns or reasons for why people use so much filler language? Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic.


    • karenwormald May 9, 2023 at 4:47 pm Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Anette. Over the six years I’ve been transcribing, I’ve found that different garbage and idioms seem to suddenly crop up. The one I’m noticing right now is, “Does that makes sense?” Some people end most of their sentences with it.

      I think the junk is the brain trying to find words, and filling in space while it does. In fact, I read an article somewhere that said people who say “um” a lot are actually thinking and it means they’re very intelligent. Um, OK.

      I recently did some transcription where a woman said “like” 1,088 times in two hours. It was almost every other word she said and made her almost nonsensical. I wondered how ANYONE could possibly be around her any length of time without wanting to punch her in the mouth.


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