An argument against “wordsmithing”

24Jun10

I’m involved with a few committees in my building, and I’ve noticed something interesting during the recent meetings. When there’s a piece of text that needs to be refined, the task usually gets assigned to one of the most experienced group members. And each time, someone else in the group quietly scoffs at the work to be done and calls it “wordsmithing”, e.g. “Dave, can you wordsmith this paragraph and email it to us?”

Something about this use of the word has always bothered me. Maybe it’s the tone that people adopt when they’re saying it. Or perhaps it’s the word itself, which conjures up images of a purely mechanical process instead of a creative one. Either way, there’s something very demeaning about asking a person to “just wordsmith it”.

If you’ve done a substantial amount of writing or design work in your career, you surely know that taking a piece of raw text and turning into a compelling message is no small task. It takes skill, patience and creativity. What should we call this process? There are many options that fit: refining, clarifying, enhancing, etc. Even if they’re a little boring, these phrases are true to the work being completed. They speak to the positive results that will be achieved, rather than getting mired in a vague description of the process itself.

With this in mind, I recommend that people remove “wordsmithing” from their vocabulary — or at least stop using it in the context that I described above. I’ve never seen anyone jump for joy after being asked to wordsmith a piece of text, and there are much better ways to describe the value that a talented writer, editor or designer brings to a project.



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