Once upon a time, the professionals and amateur writers could count on books and publications to help them in writing clearly, concisely and coherently. They knew what to expect when they open a book, a magazine or newspaper. A carefully crafted prose that adhered to all the principles of proper grammar, syntax and usage that would serve as a model for their own effective writing is what they could find. The issues of assure and ensure had not been a problem at all.
It is unfortunate that the same assurance has ceased to exist for a very long time across the board. Over the last quarter century, socioeconomic forces have eviscerated the editorial structure in publishing world. When you look at the late twentieth century, at least most book publishers were assiduous in making sure not only that fiction and nonfiction narratives were well constructed but also that attention was paid to the mechanics of sentence structure. According to periodical world, veteran magazine and newspaper editors passed their skills in telling stories, to younger editorial staff members, preserving a tradition of editorial excellence even for niche magazines and small town papers.
In most publications, there is no adherence to such high standards, and of course, and objectivity is no always maintained. However, in this case the readers can count, at least on being exposed to good, clean writing. It is unfortunate that those standards have now eroded, and thanks to budget cuts in editorial departments and deterioration in the informal newsroom mentor-protégé tradition, in addition to a growing indifferences in our society to excellent writing. Some publications put the bar high, but the general readership is exposed to much mediocre writing in print and online media alike, and sloppy prose from one writer infects other writers like a virus, passing on poor habits, errors and clichés.
There is a recent example that stood out, symptomatic of an erosion of precision in usage that encourages lazy writing. A local metropolitan newspaper has an editorial about crisis of homelessness, misused ‘assured’ not once, not twice but thrice:
If you are a careful writer, you probably know that assurance does not occur in isolation; it is given. The proper word to use in this case is ‘ensure’. However, in popular usage, assure and ensure have been used interchangeably, and historically, they have not always been employed distinctly even by more erudite writers, but preserving such distinctions helps us in maintaining a rich, diverse language. Relaxed, flexible usage in appropriate contexts is important because it helps writers produce and readers consume high quality prose.
Where does the developing writer go for guidance, if so many book and periodical publishers have abandoned their traditional role as standard bearer for good writing? Some writer still strive to deliver well-written content, and many organizational websites and corporate are edited, but ultimately, a careful writer will consult guides on writing from these sites and many excellent writing manuals available in print and sometimes online. Writers need to up their writing skills by doing more research on how to produce a high quality prose, perhaps going back to the old instructions on how to write would be helpful.