Monthly Archives: March 2012

Avoid Faulty Diction.

 My last blog discussed the need for an effective vocabulary to write clearly.  Closely aligned with the task of learning sufficient words to create a usable vocabulary is the job of learning how to use the words properly. The selection of correct, clear, and effective words is defined as diction.

Faulty diction takes many forms.  Major pitfalls to avoid include lack of conciseness.  To write concisely, a good writer must pay close attention to several areas.  In the first place. eliminate excess language.  The traditional opening lead in bridge playing calls for leading from your longest and strongest suit.  The same rule applies to writing.   Fixing the reader’s interest from the outset is most important.  Therefore, begin writing with a strong opening paragraph, appropriately captioned.  This approach will capture the reader’s attention and less likely result in reader distraction.  After getting the reader’s attention, the next challenge is to hold it.

The best way to do this is to avoid the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea.  Circumlocution is a fancy word for it, but it’s nothing more than sloppy writing.  Dense, wordy paragraphs and long, rambling, disorganized writing is a sure fire way to cause reader discontent and exasperation. Such writing amounts to pomposity and pomposity in writing, as in speaking, will turn your reader off.  Use familiar words as opposed to the unfamiliar. Write in a conversational and welcoming tone, not stilted or artificial.

In similar fashion, avoid saying the same thing twice.  The needless repetition of a thought in different words is called tautology.  Some very common forms of expression are tautological, such as “perfectly all right,” “many in number,” and “unexpected surprise.”

Be attentive to every word you write. Much of the force of your presentation will spring from its conciseness. Use words judiciously, economically and at a level the reader can understand.  Don’t make the reader grope for a meaning – it may be a meaning not intended by you.  Less is usually more.  Try to accomplish this result by “squeezing” your writing until all needless words have been squeezed out.  Question the need for everything that appears in your writing.  Due diligence on the issue of wordiness will put you squarely on the road to writing concisely.

Patriotism aside, there is no finer example of the power of  concise, effective writing than the following timeless words from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created  equal, that  they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are  instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

 These memorable words, expressing the maximum in political sentiment in the minimum amount of space, the embodiment of powerful but utter simplicity yet profound in their implication, earned Jefferson a well deserved lasting place in American history.

Don’t clutter your writing with excess ideas and language. A skilled writer will never use two words when one will do.  Avoid this pitfall by eliminating superfluous words and using fewer words that have the same meaning.  A strong sentence should contain no unnecessary words for the same reason that a valuable painting contains no unnecessary brush strokes or a modern building contains no unnecessary beams. Alternatively, you can distribute the ideas over several sentences.

The effective use of a simpler word for a longer phrase can be seen in the following examples:

Superfluous words                                Substituted Word

Because of this                                             Accordingly, therefore

Despite the fact that                                    Although

In light of the foregoing                              Therefore

Omitting superfluous words is one of the easiest ways to sharpen your writing because it directly results in concise, more vigorous writing and doesn’t require revision of your sentence structure.  Avoid legalistic appearing words such as aforementioned, hereinafter, whereas, hereby, and whosoever, which sound pompous to a non-lawyer (and even to a lawyer).

Other examples:

                          Before

The following summary is only intended to highlight certain information that may be found elsewhere in this report.

                            After

This summary highlights certain information found elsewhere in this report.

                           Before

This company has filed a tax ruling request with the Internal Revenue Service concerning the possible federal income tax consequences of the distribution to our United States stockholders of XYZ Company stock. It is expected that this distribution will be tax free for federal income tax purposes to U.S. shareholders of this company.

                           After

While we expect that the distribution of stock in the XYZ Company will be tax free to our U.S. stockholders, we have asked the Internal Revenue Service to rule that it is.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Clear Writing Requires The Development Of An Effective Vocabulary.

My Febryary 6, 2012 blog, “Finding and Using The Right Word Is Pivotal,” concluded with the observation that, because words are a writer’s most important tool, the acquisition and use of an effective vocabulary should be considered an immecdiate and ongoing challenge.

Here are some important steps you can take to develop your vocabulary.

1.  Become a language junkie.  Make a list of all new words you encounter.  Look up the definition of each word in an unabridged dictionary and write it down.  Familiarize yourself with the synonyms listed in the dictionary for the word you’re looking up.  There may be additional synonyms for the word available in a thesaurus.   Use the word program on your computer or an excel spreadsheet to memorialize each new word and its definition.  Review the list frequently.

2. Incorporate each new word into everyday speaking and writing usage.  Relate the new word to something or some place in your own previous knowledge and experience. Otherwise, if words are just memorized, the meaning will not be retained.  Try to use each new word in your conversation so that it won’t seem to be foreign when you use it in your writing.  This is a proven and productive method of learning new words

3. Use each new word as often as possible. Practice and repetition are vital to the learning process.  There is no substitute for this approach.

4.  Finally, read good books as well as newspapers, magazines, periodicals, etc., extensively, whether online or hardcopy.  This  is an excellent means for creating an improved vocabulary, not only in terms of learning new words but in learning new applications of words already known.  One of the finest writers I have ever encountered, Winston Churchill, had a remarkable gift for the effective use of words.  Reading his vast and extensive writings is not merely to journey through history but is also to enjoy an unforgettable experience in the use of words which create an impact on the reader.  His excellent, in depth command of the English language is evident in the following passage from Marlborough, His Life And Times, at page 33:

“It is said that famous men are usually the product of unhappy childhood. The stern compression of circumstances, the twinges of adversity, the spur of slights and taunts in early years, are needed to evoke that ruthless fixity of purpose and tenacious mother-wit without which great actions are seldom accomplished.”

It is important to understand that the possession of  an effective vocabulary, an important milestone in your writing development,  nevertheless marks only part of the distance towards clear writing.  You still need the ability to use those words effectively.  This means avoiding faulty diction, which includes a multitude of writing sins.  Good diction requires the selection of words which are clear,  correct, and effective.  Of necessity it requires an excellent vocabulary, and is important in speaking as well as writing clearly.  There are several elements comprising  good diction, which will be treated in coming blogs.  Suffice it to say at this point that you will need to pay close attention to this area before your goal of clear writing can be achieved.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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To Be Present “At The Creation,” Maximize Your Writing Abilities.

The other night, bored with election returns,  I picked up a copy of Dean Acheson’s book, “Present At The Creation, My Years In The State Department,”  and began to leaf through it.  Acheson, you may recall, was Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman.  He was not only there at the creation of the post World War II world, but was one of its principal architects.

Facing the title page of the book was the following  quotation from  Alphonso X,  the Learned, King of Spain (1252-84):

“Had I  been present at the creation I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.”

This very profound thought still has signficance today.

What does it all mean, being present at the creation?  In the context of this blogsite it means, to improve your present circumstances,  take full advantage of existng opportunities.   I’m reminded of Thomas Jefferson, who, as president, signed off on the Louisiana Purchase back in 1803.   He seized the opportunity for the United States, still in its infancy, to double its size while increasing national security.   To be more explicit:

It was the hallmark of Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy that the Chief Executive should not have excessive power.  Yet, in 1803, when faced with the opportunity to purchase from France the vast, unexplored, Louisiana Territory  which bordered on the western side of America, he signed the agreement to buy the territory for $15 million.

Jefferson’s visionary act removed a potential threat to America’s national security.  One option was to take no action at all, thus leaving Napoleon, builder of empires, in possession of the territory.  But Jefferson, taking the advice of American commissioners abroad, decided on the purchase.  Paving the way for this historical event was the work of  John Adams, Jefferson’s predecessor,  in securing peace with France during the so-called “Quasi War.”

There was considerable doubt as to the constitutional power to make such a purchase. But when the issue came before the Supreme Court in 1828, Chief Justice John Marshall, speaking for the Court, ruled that “the Constitution confers absolutely on the government…, the powers of making war, and of making treaties; consequently, that government possesses the power of acquiring territory, either by conquest or by treaty.”

Jefferson was ever the pragmatist.  Understanding that America was still very young and in its formative stages, and although he had to sacrifice certain of his constitutional ideals, he saw an opportunity to strengthen the country and took advantage of it.

The Jefferson-Louisiana Purchase vignette is not directly related to writing, but the point is, whenever you are creating any writing, you are there “at the creation.”    The writing itself can open up a new world  of opportunity for you.  The power of the written word and what it can do should not be underestimated.   The secret to maximizing this power is to strive for perfection in your writing.  This means paying close attention to its presentation or organization, first,  and second,  the content itself.

Well organized writing, properly captioned, with excellent content, using ample white space and good paragraphing, will go a long way to selling your writing and yourself.  Don’t miss an opportunity to sell yourself, or your product or service,  because your writing was poorly organized and poorly written.  Good organization of your writing and creation of well written, quality content can help to “seal the deal.”

Coming up in forthcoming blogs: more tried and tested clear writing techniques to help you reach your goals.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

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Key Considerations In Writing A Draft.

Reduced to the basics, draft preparation involves the following logical sequence: words, sentences, paragraphs.

In order to meaningfully implement this sequence, first, you have to know what words to use.

Next, you must know how to put the words together in a sentence.

Last, you must be able to structure a smooth and cohesive paragraph using the sentences.

It’s easy to summarize the sequence.  Putting it all together to produce clear writing is vastly more difficult.  Clear writing requires the use of everyday words, short sentences, active voice, regular print, and personal pronouns that speak directly to the reader.  More will be said about these techniques, and others, in coming blogs.

Follow These Steps In Writing A Draft.

Step 1.  Write the draft to follow your previously  prepared outline (see 2/24/12 and 2/27/12 posts),  but don’t allow it to hinder the free flow of your thoughts.  Add whatever language is necessary to fully express your thinking using the draft to guide the appropriate placement of any additional thoughts.  The unobstructed expression of your mind should be given full vent.  This step is somewhat akin to allowing a stream of water to flow freely as long as it follows the channel you have built for it.  In other words, the free flow of your mind should be allowed to supplement the outline as you proceed.

Step 2,    When you are finished drafting, read the draft through completely without making notes or comments. Be attentive to the question of whether the reader will understand what you have written.  As you read ask yourself, is this as clear as I can make it?  Pay close attention to the information flow.  A smooth and logical flow of information from beginning to end is necessary to achieve optimum clarity.

Step 3.  Next, read the draft a second time, making notes on what you have written and any questions you have.

Finally, read the draft and the outline together, carefully comparing the draft with the outline, to be satisfied the draft is complete.  Revise the draft as necessary to insure completeness.

Don’t Rely On Your First draft.

Your writing typically should go through  more than one draft before you can be satisfied as to completeness and clarity. This is the polishing process.  Here, you are seeking to correct not only grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors, but to make whatever changes are necessary to insure the document  reads smoothly and looks and feels professional.

As you read keep the following important issues in mind:

Does the writing flow smoothly and logically?

Will the reader understand it?

Has important information been highlighted?

Is the writing complete as to all important information?

Has all unnecessary information been excluded?

Editing and revising the writing will likely become necessary after answering these  questions.  It may even be helpful to outline the writing again after editing and  revisions have been finished.  Use the revised outline as a table of contents.

When you are satisfied the writing is as clear as you can possibly make it, then and only then should it be used.  Remember, you must strive for quality content and you must know your reader.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Summary Of Effective Paragraphing Techniques.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The development of effective paragraphing entails four basic rules.  I’ve covered these in previous posts, but they are important enough to bear repeating before we move on to other subjects in the next post.

  First, unify the paragraph by developing a topic sentence which encompasses its central thought and introduces the paragraph.  A good topic sentence goes hand-in-glove with a descriptive paragraph heading.  Together, they are the key to locking the reader into your writing.  A descriptive topic sentence establishes a basic context for the reader before the details are provided and gives the reader the incentive to read on.

A topic sentence should include only one principal subject and express but one thought. It should tell the reader what the paragraph is about. Let the topic sentence embrace the controlling thought and the rest of the paragraph expand this thought.  Work on tightening a rambling paragraph by developing a good topic sentence and then building the paragraph around it.

A busy reader will often skim your topic sentences to get an overall understanding of your writing.  Well written topic sentences will make the reader’s task that much easier.

For example, if you were writing about a tip that might help others groove their golf swing, a good topic sentence (or, as here, sentences) might read as follows:

The sweetest swing you ever saw once belonged to Slammin’ Sammy Snead; today it arguably belongs to Freddie Couples; now, it can belong to you. Here’s why. [Next, describe your tip].

Or, if you were writing about a new health product, you could start off like this:

For thousands of years ancient healers have believed that forces exist within the human body which can direct and control the course of any life.

 Second, arrange sentences to provide coherence in the paragraph.  The sequence of expression should be orderly and arranged by time or importance to make the progress of thought easy to follow. Strive for connection between sentences using repetition of key words, reference words, and parallel structure.

Third, use words of transition.  Transition words are usually found at the beginning of the next paragraph to help introduce a new thought.  They serve to provide a stepping stone to ease the progression from one paragraph to another.  Words such as also, further, and in addition, are typically used for this purpose.  In this fashion, paragraphs may be linked together into the entire writing.

Fourth, keep paragraph length relatively short to reduce dense text. Short paragraphs create more white space, are more inviting, and are thus easier to read and understand. Paragraphs may vary in length from fifty to three hundred words, depending on content, but the shorter the better.  If necessary, break up a long paragraph into two shorter ones.

Even though content determines paragraph length, take steps to highlight paragraph content when necessary.  These include use of bullet points and dashes to make it easier to scan listed information, as follows:

         Before : Our company sells only naturally developed products.  They contain no preservatives, artificial colors, or fillers of any kind.  Use of them will increase mental alertness, stabilize metabolism, reduce fatigue, and enhance your body’s ability to stave off disease through its immune system.

          After:  Our company’s products provide these benefits –

  • No preservatives, artificial colors, or fillers of any kind;
  • Increase mental alertness;
  • Stabilize metabolism;
  • Reduce fatigue; and
  • Enhance your body’s ability to stave off disease through its immune system.

Upcoming posts will cover guidelines and techniques for writing your first draft.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G, Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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More Techniques On Paragraphing…And A Great Recipe For Chicken Tetrazzini!

As stated in my last post, March 10, 2012, today I am including my favorite recipe, for chicken tetrazzini, from  A Treasury Of Great Recipes,  the excellent cookbook of Mary andVincent Price.  This recipe is being presented to demonstrate the flexibility of descriptive paragraphing, which may be used for simple or complicated subjects.  The subject here is not complicated, although the recipe itself involves several steps.

There are different methods for developing a paragraph.  A recipe necessarily proceeds in chronological order, as would the description of a golf swing.  As a method of developing a paragraph or choosing a pattern of organization, some may call this “process paragraphing,” as compared with other forms of paragraphing such as analogy, compare and contrast,  cause and effect, and others.  But, this is an unnecessary complication.  It is still  descriptive paragraphing.

In this recipe, topic sentences have been used where appropriate.   A more complicated subject would require greater care in sentence structuring.  Paragraph coherence has been established by the orderly arrangement of sentences.  Transitional words and phrases have been used to facilitate movement from one paragraph to another.

While this recipe is being presented for illlustrative purposes, it really works.  First, a word of caution.  Many recipes are straightforward and uncomplicated.  This recipe looks a bit scary, but after it’s made the first time it’s very easy.  Just have all of the ingredients ready to go and it works like a charm.  Besides, it’s well worth the trouble – my wife has made this dish for many years.  It will be a hit every time you serve it.  Here’s the recipe:

There are several steps involved.

Preparation of the tetrazzini is easy when ingredients are organized and measured out.  The first step of the recipe requires 3 cups of cooked, shredded chicken, 1/4 cup of butter, 1 cup of sliced mushrooms, and 1/4 cup of sherry.  Melt the butter in a large skillet or frying pan and saute the  mushrooms.  Add the sherry, stir, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken, mix well, and turn off the heat.

The next step is to cook 12 ounces (or approximately 6 cups) of spaghetti according to directions.

Preparation of the supreme sauce is next.  This sauce requires 2 tablespoons of  butter, 3 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper, 1/4 cup of cream, and 1 cup of chicken broth.  Put all of these ingredients into a blender, turn on at low speed until mixed, then high speed for about 30 seconds until mixed well. Place this mixture into a double boiler and cook over simmering water for 15 minutes until thickened.

Then, to create the supreme sauce, stir in 1/4  cup of cream to the sauce in the double boiler.  Mix together and add to the chicken mixture.  Add an additional 1/2 cup of cream and mix well.  Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes, add a final 1/2 cup of cream, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper and stir together until mixed well.

To prepare the casserole, butter a large casserole dish and fill it with half of the cooked spaghetti.  Then, cover the spaghetti with half of the chicken mixture.  Repeat this process with the remaining spaghetti and chicken mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare the hollandaise sauce, the final step.  This sauce requires 1 cup of butter, 4 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of tabasco.  Using a small pan, heat the butter until hot.   Place the remaining ingredients into a blender.  Turn the blender on low speed and immediately pour the hot butter in a steady stream through the opening in the top of the blender cover.  Turn off the blender immediately and pour the sauce over the chicken and spaghetti casserole.  Spread the sauce to cover the chicken.  Top with 1/4 cup (or more, to your taste) of grated parmesan cheese.

Place the uncovered casserole in the preheated oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.  The casserole can be browned under the broiler for just a couple of minutes.  Serve immediately with a nice salad.  This recipe can be made the day before, but cover and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve.  If baking right from the refrigerator, it will take approximately 50 to 60 minutes in a preheated oven.

This recipe serves 6 to 8 people.  I hope you enjoy it.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Well Constructed Paragraphs Are The Foundation For Clear Writing.

Paragraphs allow the reader to take a breath while continuing to read.  Without them a reader would face the daunting task of having to read and decide simultaneously when there is a change of thought or subject.

Clear writing flows directly from well composed paragraphing. The effectiveness of any writing will depend directly on how well you have constructed the paragraphs.  As further explained below, all paragraphs should be unified in thought, well organized, and coherent.

Paragraphs may be long or short.  Moderation and common sense are keys.  If a paragraph is too short the reader may conclude the writer has given little thought to the writing.  If it’s too long the reader may simply get discouraged.

There are different types of writing usable for different purposes, including persuasive, expository, narrative, creative, descriptive, research, and (book) reporting.  Paragraphing does not of necessity completely follow the type of writing you are using, but may vary within the main body of the document being written, depending on the context.

Two main groups of paragraphs exist, narrative and descriptive.  Other paragraph forms may have different identifying labels placed on them, such as chronologic, compare and contrast, definition, and others, but it is simpler to place them in one of the two main categories.

For example, a chronologic or progressive paragraph is so-called because of its orderly progression from one point to another, often following a time sequence.  But it’s still descriptive or narrative in nature. Describing a fishing technique or a golf swing are good examples of the use of such a paragraph.

A recipe, which is by its nature descriptive, is another good example.  The late Vincent Price was a well known screen actor, starring in House of Wax and other films of that genre. But he was also an accomplished chef.  His cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes, by Mary and Vincent Price, first published circa 1965, contains many delectable recipes.  It’s likely out of print now.  Although this blogsite is not intended to be a cookbook, as an example of descriptive paragraphing, the next post will contain one of my favorite Vincent Price recipes – chicken tetrazzini.

Persuasive writing is typically employed by a trial lawyer to advocate a position.  An argument in favor of class actions is shown in the following, albeit abbreviated, example:

Class actions are disfavored by many people because they believe that the lawyers get most of the money and individual class members get little, if any.  The problem with that argument is that the lawyer who brings the case takes a lot of risk.  He/she may have to work for years without pay and must usually spend a substantial amount of money up front on investigative costs and expert witness fees. Failure to get a court order certifying the putative class as a genuine class is generally regarded as the “death knell” for the case.  The lawyer may wind up with nothing if the class is not certified or the case is lost after trial.

On the other hand a successful class action will usually result in a court order and resulting judgment correcting questionable company practices such as putting a dangerous or unhealthy product on the market, or illegally manipulating the price of a stock.  An individual, upon notification of the pending class action, has the right to opt out of the class and pursue the target defendant individually.  Class actions are often settled.  A settlement usually creates a class fund, approved by the court, used to compensate individual class members for damages suffered, and to pay attorneys fees. Under these circumstances the lawyer earns his/her pay.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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