This week in a Better Business Writing class, an attendee named Linda used the word purview in her writing project. Her context was similar to this:
If purchasing is part of your purview, please note these changes.
One of the other attendees asked, “What’s a purview?” A few other people, nearly all of whom have been speaking American English all their lives, admitted that they too were not certain of the meaning of purview.
I myself knew the meaning of the word, and I know I have used it in spoken English, but I thought it was spelled purvue.
Linda was surprised that we were not more familiar with the word, but she was very willing to change it. She settled on the phrase “area of responsibility” as a more familiar substitution:
If purchasing is part of your area of responsibility, please note these changes.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines purview this way:
the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention
Although Merriam-Webster includes other definitions of purview, that one most closely matches Linda’s intended meaning.
In class, Linda got instant feedback from us as her readers. In our writing on the job, that is not the case. We write, thinking our meaning is clear, yet our reader may be asking, “What is a purview?”
How can we avoid using the wrong word for our readers? Here are several suggestions:
Recognize that readers skim. Choose the simplest appropriate words to help them skim quickly.
Imagine a reader on the other side of the world. If Linda were writing for someone who reads English as a foreign language, purview would probably require a visit to a bilingual dictionary. Even we English speakers in Federal Way, Washington, were puzzled by the word.
Ask a coworker to review your writing and to comment on any aspect of it that is not easy to understand immediately.
Replace any word you have doubts about. If you are not sure that your reader knows cognizant, pussyfoot, intrinsic, drive-by, corpus, upmanship, canny, time-out, or gorp, use another word, or define your terms. (For definitions of any of the previous words, do a OneLook Dictionary Search.)
Your purview as a writer is to choose the appropriate words for your readers. Otherwise, they may be staring at the page or screen wondering, “What is a purview?” rather than focusing on your message.
Other search spellings: defintion, defintiton, definiton, defenition, EFL