Tuesday, March 20, 2007

speaking and writing

I need some help in processing an issue.

I do a regular [fortnightly] slot on a [Christian] radio station. Titled “Viewpoint” the brief is as follows:
Viewpoint is a 2 minute monologue designed to equip the Christian audience to better understand current news and social issues from a Christian perspective. Each item needs to highlight an issue that affects the average Kiwi, and provide them with an understanding of how the Christian Worldview provides a Biblical perspective. Whilst the Bible does not need to be quoted, it is important that the Scriptures themes be clearly communicated. Viewpoint is not designed to promote the contributors viewpoint, but the Bibles. It should be challenging, informing and insightful.

To date I have done a reflection on the movie Babel and the Treaty of Waitangi; on the movie Blood Diamond and where is God in Africa; on how a rich country like New Zealand can respond to the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. It has been fun, but it has also been an added stress. And I work on making them “edgy,” so I feel quite vulnerable when I do them.

The radio station have now asked if I would be willing to have the MP3 placed on their website. No worries.

They have also asked if I have a written transcipt and if so, would I be willing to provide that for the site. I do. But here’s the rub.

Something deep within me says that oral communication is different from written communication. I know that what I write to speak is different from what I write to be read; different pace, different rhythm, different style. And when I quote someone in a verbal presentation, I won’t cite publisher, but I will in a written document.

What is more, I wonder if people read differently than they hear. I face this with my sermons. They are spoken (obviously), but I use a full script. When I arrived at Opawa, some in the congregation were older, and more hard of hearing, than at Graceway. So I offered them my full script. We also offer it to speakers of English as a second language. Now you can hear the pages turn at Opawa on a Sunday morning.

Yet when I speak the script, I make on the spot adjustments and it comes in the context of a 75 minute service. Sometimes people have not been present, but they have gotten the script and they have concerns about my theology. (Other people are simply there and still have concerns about my theology :)). And often the concerns boil down to the simple fact that the written word is different from the spoken word and when I explain the whole service, there concerns seem lessened. (For example, I did a sermon last year really pushing the Incarnation hard. We then opened it up for talkback and in that interaction, the community brought a nice pastoral balance). So the whole was different from one part.

And I don’t have a script writer who carefully inserts footnotes to validate my points. And I am not sure that I want to spend the time to turn my spoken words into written words. And my first book editor told me (in love) that I needed to learn not to write like I speak.

Am I barking mad? Am I being lazy? Is speaking different from writing? Should I seek to preserve the difference? Would a internet surfer who stumbles across the written transcipt of my radio Viewpoint be able to appreciate the difference? Does it matter? Won’t people in fact be more likely to read my words than to download the MP3 and thus in terms of reaching a wider audience, I should encourage verbal transcript? If I provide a written script, will I have had to spend more time dealing with brickbats and bouquets? Yet shouldn’t I be honoured that people would care enough to send me the brickbats and bouquets?

Ahhhhh. So many questions. Any wisdom out there?

Further link:
Speaking and writing: a theological murmer about the implications of this post for Bible

Posted by steve at 05:50 PM


  1. Two thoughts:
    1) Different learning styles… maybe someone needs to have what they heard reinforced by another type of media.
    2) What if you let God sort out how it comes across? Sometimes people receive things in the way God has prepared them to do so – even if it isn’t what you meant to say, maybe God is the speaker being heard, maybe God is the writer being read.

    Comment by Will — March 21, 2007 @ 3:21 am

  2. Hi Steve – I think it is admirable that you are giving this question as much thought and consideration as you are; especially in that you have asked for the thoughts of others – risky thing to do sometimes. My view is that people do indeed process the spoken work very differently than they do the written word. Because you have such a wonderful presentation in what you speak (not that you don’t when you write)I would opt to stay true to form in making available the spoken version, holding back the written transcript. When you lose the ability to convey voice inflection, pause, humor, etc – it does set you up for being misunderstood. That’s my input – I am sure that you will ultimately make the correct choice. Blessings, Jim

    Comment by Watters — March 21, 2007 @ 4:25 am

  3. Mate. Both mediums as you note are different, but irrespective, people typically hear what they want to hear (think of sermons and people thanking you for something you didn’t say) and read what they want to read.

    You have the same challenge with sermons. Typically I used to write them reasonably thoroughly but speak them with a different emphasis, more as a response to ‘feedback’ and my sense of things on the day. The preparation is there, but the delivery is not word for word!

    So, I don’t see any harm in both, but if it takes more time, and you end up putting more energy into writing for an audience, then just stick to the Mp3’s and leave the writing for books, your blog, and journals/magazines.

    Comment by Paul Fromont — March 21, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  4. It’s great to see you thinking through the implications of things here: A radio station website looking to maximise content vs the impact of that content on the audience. And yes, written and audio is very different indeed.

    In the end, I don’t think you should be spending your time reworking your transcript to make it work for the written context – the radio folk would never have dreamed of so much more work being put into there request! Thats just life clutter you don’t need or have time for.

    But you can offer it to the site, with a preluding disclaimer that this is merely a “transcript”, and to get the full impact and intent of the piece, people should listen to the mp3.

    It’s the same as reading a sitcom script; I read the joke, I read the instructions for the actors to have a well time pause – but it still doesn’t have me bursting at the stiches like when I’m watching it on the box… but thats fine, because it’s a script – it’s obvious that this is not the intended medium.

    Same goes with audio and the written word. It’s less obvious – but you just need to point that out to the reader!

    Comment by Spanky — March 21, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  5. Many wise comments here, Steve. And good for you for asking for input and thinking this through.

    My two cents worth: written and spoken word are very different. You do both well… but they are different. Reading through your sermon notes from time to time leads me to believe that they do not read like your book or your blog… I get the gist, but it’s not the same at all.

    I would not send transcripts… stick to MP3’s. Besides who reads vs. listens on a radio website. That’s weird.

    You rock.

    Comment by Pernell — March 21, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  6. Pernell and Spanky, what about the fact that google finds written content, not spoken content. I am sure technology will change and that soon google will have worked out a way to catalogue vidoe and MP3. But until them, I am likely to be more engaged with if i supply a transcript than a MP3. if the game is communication, then isn’t transcript better?

    just pushing ya ,

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — March 21, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  7. Hi Steve,

    Perhaps the first step is defining your goal or what “success” looks like. As I read the comments I felt that the mp3 would be best given that it will take more time to ‘fix up’ the transcript and all. However, your point about google is a valid one. Defining what your goal is for this monologue might help you make the decision one way or the other.

    If you make the decision to share the transcript I wonder if it would change your approach or process and thus change your monologue. Of course this might be good…but maybe not be. It all depends on you, your style etc.

    Peace – Dave.

    Comment by David Mullens — March 21, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  8. True, true. Google does currently only take those darn “words” into account. But surely we shouldn’t ALWAYS be bound by the majority when we come to communicating. Google also struggles to search for subjective themes within art…should we stop painting Christian paintings then?

    a)turn your audio into a podcast! Then you can register it with podcast searches, and Google will pick up what your content is all about in those descriptions!

    b) Use the transcript as a way to suck people into your audio. Maybe there is something refreshing about seeing an imperfect transcript, with spelling mistakes and in written-to-speak language. A bit like reading scribbled lyrics in a CD booklet… it’s honest. But it only works if you clearly point them to the main event – which in this case is the audio.

    Of coarse I don’t mind if you spend 6 hours slaving over your transcript to tidy it up so that it can be read… the question is whether your wife would agree with me 🙂

    Comment by Spanky — March 21, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  9. hmmmmm… let’s thing about that for a moment!

    for all sorts of reasons i am of the mp3 only opinion.

    + it is a different media and your speaking is diff than your writing
    + i don’t think the google thing is a biggie. most likely whatever your talking about you will have blogged about in some form, so you’re bound to come up in searches anyway (not that that is what it’s about)
    + and yes, spanky, i quite like him, and would value that time spent with me, or (paul) writing something else, or playing with the kids 🙂

    Comment by lynne — March 21, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

  10. Hey Steve,

    Chiming in late as usual, but thought I’d add 2 cents. Linda and I have just started up a podcast and have decided to have full transcripts for all of them. The main reason is the “google” factor; especially for a fledgeling site (not that that is an issue for you).

    However, as stressed above the issue is time. For our three-five minute show it takes about half an hour to transcribe and format. I’d suggest allowing the publishers to make transcripts, but not supplying them yourself; if they think the added value is worth it then they can go ahead and transcribe.

    From a communication perspective writing and speaking are very different, but we’re coming back into a text age. Just make sure the links to the audio are very prevelent: ensure readers are aware it’s a transcript not a piece of writing.

    Comment by Craig (mars-hill) — March 22, 2007 @ 6:23 am

  11. Some good points above.

    I think that absoutely there is a difference in the two mediums. Compare written and oral history. Paul’s comment about adding a disclaimer is good. And it would be helpful as a resource to those with hearing disabilities.

    But as a communication piece to the masses they are very different mediums and you should think about what is the purpose of the broadcast?

    Comment by Andrew — March 22, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

  12. Steve, is it possible to submit the title and a summary of the content of your submission with a LINK to the mp3? That way, when a topic is ‘googled’, the information pops up with a link to the spoken word.

    Comment by Anita — March 23, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.