Monthly Archives: March 2013

Echoes From The Past – Repercussions From California’s Gold Rush Are Still Felt Today

With the island of Cyprus and the European Union being very much in the news these days, I am reminded of a few lines I wrote in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” dealing with the lingering echoes of California’s Gold Rush which can still be heard today.  Some analysts are talking about a return to the gold standard. They believe this approach may settle the monetary uncertainty which continues to plague the EU.   The concept behind the gold standard is simple enough: a pledge by the government to redeem dollars for gold, thus insuring the value of the currency.  However, experiments with the gold standard seem not to have worked out for whatever country has tried it.

 In the light of these events, the lines I wrote to illustrate narrative paragraphing continue to be relevant:

 “The lingering echoes of California’s 1849 gold rush can still be heard today.

It was a watershed event in America’s economic history, starting innocuously enough with the discovery of gold at John Sutter’s sawmill near Sacramento, California.  Pandemonium reigned with the spread of news as the influx of gold seekers into California swelled to a crescendo.  Outsiders from all over the world poured into California; they sailed around South America, crossed Panama, and swarmed in from other parts of the world as well. San Francisco mushroomed from a sleepy little village to a boom town virtually overnight.

The huge supply of gold that was ultimately generated provided riches for the United States.  The enormous amount of gold now available enabled the U.S. Mint to add two new gold coins, the gold $1 coin and a large, heavy $20 coin (Double Eagle).  California became the “golden” state.

So began a new worship of money.  The discovery of gold paved the way for the transition of pastoral America to manufacturing America and the institution of the gold standard – paper money backed by gold and free convertibility of currency into gold.  The price of gold was pegged at $20 per ounce.

But the gold standard worked to the disadvantage of indebted farmers, who favored bimetallism (as did Alexander Hamilton), and the minting of silver coins to create cheap money.  Their struggle with depressed crop prices in the late nineteenth century was aggravated by a shortage of money and an escalation of the farmer-banker conflict.

Banker J. Pierpont Morgan was a strong advocate for the gold standard.  But to William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, Morgan was a Pontius Pilate who nailed starving farmers to a cross of gold.  The agrarian fanatical hatred for the gold standard was reflected in Bryan’s famous speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention, when he concluded that “mankind shall not be crucified on a cross of gold.”

America eventually departed from the gold standard in 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to the depression, impounded all the country’s gold.  In 1971, because of a serious cash flow crisis, President Richard Nixon permanently closed the gold window by decreeing that the U.S. would not exchange gold for dollars for anyone.

With the departure of the gold standard came the untrammeled printing of money by the U.S. and other nations.  This creation of easy money (fiat money, i.e., money created by government decree) leading to excessive spending and the resulting budget deficits arguably have directly contributed to the sovereign debt crisis plaguing Europe today.  Some analysts are now calling for a hardening of currencies and a return to the gold standard.”

Thus, the landscape of today’s financial world can truly be said to be a reflection of its rocky beginning.

The foregoing quote and other clear writing guidelines and techniques may be found in my book, which is available on amazon.com in print and on Kindle Books.  The book and my two Civil War articles are featured on my website located at agregardie.com.

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Gettysburg Revisited – The Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Is Approaching – Time To reflect

With the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg coming up on July 1-3, it’s a good time to recall the importance of that battle.

I devoted three pages in my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” to a description of the battle, which was used as an example of the versatility of a descriptive paragraph.  Here is what I wrote:

“Descriptive writing, shown below, is normally used to describe an event, how it was seen, felt, remembered, etc.

The battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, was one of the most pivotal battles in the Civil War.  It was intended to be the culminationof General Robert E. Lee’s audacious plan to lead the Army of Northern Virginia in an invasion of Pennsylvania and inflict a mortal blow on Union forces in their own backyard.

Both Union and Confederate troops had converged on Gettysburg, a prosperous little crossroads village in south central Pennsylvania, some 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.  Confederate forces arrived there on July 1, 1863, looking for shoes for their troops, but unexpectedly encountered a large Union force which had arrived the previous day.

After a day of battle, Union forces led by General George Meade still held Cemetery Hill, the high ground south of town which they had   previously occupied.  Lee had ordered Confederate forces under General Richard Ewell to seize the hills and ridges before Union reinforcements arrived.  But Ewell hesitated, believing Union forces were too strong, and no attack was launched.  As the night passed, more Union troops arrived.

During the evening and the next morning, from his position atop    Seminary Ridge, Major General James Longstreet surveyed the bluecoat positions through his field glasses and concluded no attack on Cemetery Hill should be made.  Rebel forces would have to attack across 1,400 yards of open fields with but 15,000 men, which he believed to be an inadequate force for such an undertaking.

Longstreet believed Lee’s plan to be dangerous and favored his own plan,  which was to circle around the high ground and attack from the south.   This was contrary to Lee’s orders to attack the enemy where they were. Lee, spurred on by recent victories, would not change his mind and ordered the assault.

Foreshadowed by Brigadier General Richard Garnett’s comment, “This is a desperate thing to attempt,” the ensuing Confederate attack led by General George Pickett’s division, know n to posterity as Pickett’s Charge, resulted in devastating rebel losses, including the deaths of two  brigade commanders, General Garnett and Brigadier General Lewis Armistead.

Lee’s subsequent withdrawal marked the end of his ambitious plan.  His decision, viewed by many historians as a tactical miscalculation, had cost him the opportunity to deliver a decisive blow against the Union.” (pp 75-77).

Robert E. Lee is justifiably remembered as one of the most courageous and effective generals the country has ever produced.  Yet, in making the decision to proceed with Pickett’s Charge, he ordered what amounted to an insufficient number of Rebel troops to attack across an open field some 1,400 yards wide,  into the teeth of Union forces massed on Cemetery Ridge, at their strongest point, in what is regarded by many military experts as a cardinal sin.  It was clear he missed the brilliant leadership of Stonewall Jackson, killed in May, 1863 by friendly fire at Chancellorsville, Virginia.  Whether Jackson would have ordered Pickett’s Charge at the same time and place is open to serious question by many historians.

The vignette, quoted above, is but one of several contained in my easy to read writing book, available on amazon.com as a Kindle Book and in print.  The book contains time-tested guidelines and techniques designed to improve the clarity of your writing.  The ability to write clearly will help all those seeking employment as well as advance the careers of those already employed.   Two Civil War articles, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” and “Bloody Shiloh and the Rise of U.S. Grant,” are also available on amazon.com as Kindle Books.  The book and the two articles are featured on my website at agregardie.com.

Copyright 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

 

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Follow These Techniques To Sharpen Your Writing

In today’s world of global communications, the written word is more important than ever before.  Clear writing is your key to success in any endeavor.  Use of clear writing guidelines and techniques will increase job opportunities for you as well as help to advance your career if you are already employed.

Following the tips listed below will put you on the road to writing improvement. As you use these tips, remember that writing is no different than any other undertaking in life – you have to start at the beginning to master it.  All art is created through the exercise of a craft such as painting or sculpting.  Every craft must be taught and learned, including writing.  Clear writing is an art form because it can be learned through the craft of writing.  Almost everyone can write to some degree but to write clearly is a goal worthy of achievement.  The long hours and hard work it may take to get there are tasks eminently worthy of the effort.  Remember that a clearly written document will speak as well of the author as the purpose it seeks to advance.

Know your reader.  If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you may as well not write at all.

Know your subject matter.  Become a maven on the content of your writing.  You need expert knowledge to write with authority on any subject.  If you try to fake it, your reader will see right through you.  Take the time to research your subject matter thoroughly.  The result will be high quality content, a vital ingredient for any successful writer.

Write in a conversational tone.  This doesn’t mean engaging in meaningless chit-chat in a serious letter such as a job application but try to avoid overly stiff, formal writing.  A relaxed, conversational style should be what you are seeking.  This tone of writing will become apparent to you the more you write – and read.

Be concise.  When I was in Toastmasters years ago, we relied on a simple mantra to guide our thinking about speechmaking:  stand up, speak up, shut up.  The same idea applies to writing: say what you have to say in as few words as possible.  Avoid wordiness.

Be consistent.  Use grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc., in a consistent manner throughout your writing to avoid having the reader believe that you are a careless or sloppy writer.

Use less jargon, i.e., words that are particular to a specific trade or profession.  Use of words that you may know but are unfamiliar to the reader may cause the reader to see you as a pompous writer and to view your writing with suspicion.

Avoid vague or big words.  Be specific.  Write in plain, ordinary English to avoid reader frustration.  The word “cool” is often used in today’s conversation but it’s too vague and abstract to be useful in clear writing.  Use “end” instead of “terminate,” and “use” instead of “utilize.”  Sharpen your word selection by resorting to an unabridged dictionary.  Also, avoid an overly general use of words, which is the product of a lazy mind.  A good writer uses specifics to encourage visualization and the formation of word pictures in the reader’s mind.  Stronger writing will always use definite, specific language because it will be far easier for the reader to understand a concept when the reader’s mind can form images.

Use short sections.  The sight of long, dense, unbroken text is intimidating to a reader.  Break it up into shorter sections with a good topic sentence at the beginning of each section.  Your reader will be very appreciative.  In the same vein, keep your sentences shorter.

Prefer the active voice, i.e., express action directly.  In other words, to borrow a thought from the legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer, you should “Accentuate the positive” in your writing.  More specifically, the active voice makes it clear who is supposed to perform the action in the sentence.  When using the active voice in a sentence, the person who’s acting is the subject of the sentence.  When the passive voice is used, the person who is acted upon is the subject of the sentence.  The active voice eliminates ambiguity about responsibility for action; the passive voice obscures that responsibility.  For example, “You need a special permit to fish in that lake,” is better than “A special permit is needed to fish in that lake.”  More than any other writing technique, use of the active voice will improve the quality of your writing.

Following these techniques will help make your writing clear and persuasive.

Be positive in your approach to writing.  Don’t assume it’s time consuming or unimportant.

All of the writing tips appearing on this blog and on previous blogs on this site may be viewed under one cover in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” which is available at amazon.com in print or on Kindle.  The book and my two Civil War articles are featured on my website at http://www.agregardie.com.

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Clear Writing Requires Clear and Consistent Sentences And Use of Personal Pronouns

Clear sentences must have a sound structure.    As has been  pointed out in previous posts,  short, simple
sentences and short, common words, enhance the effectiveness of a paragraph.  Your writing will be streamlined
even further and your writing will be even clearer if you follow the natural word sequence of English speakers – “subject-verb-object -” as closely as possible.   Keep subjects and objects close to their verbs.  Putting modifiers, clauses, or phrases between any of these essential parts of a sentence will make it harder for the reader to understand you.         

          Before

Holders of common stock will be entitled to receive, to the extent money is available, a cash payment, as set forth in the accompanying schedules.

          After

Cash distributions will be made to holders of common stock on the payment dates  indicated in the accompanying schedules, if cash is available.

However, sloppy word placement even in a short sentence can cause  ambiguity.  The following sentence makes it appear as if the writer has decided to be disabled:

Ambiguous  –  If you are determined to have a disability, the company will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.

Clearer  –  If the company determines that you  have a disability, it will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.

Also, strive for consistent sentence construction.   Uneven sentence construction will lead to unclear writing.  A common form of mixed sentence construction is use of two negatives in the sentence.  Use of the so-called double negative destroys the orderly construction of the sentence and marks you as an uninformed writer.

For example, a company manual might provide as follows on the subject of extra vacation pay:

No approval of extra vacation pay may be implied in the absence of express approval from the company.

It is clearer to say,

You must obtain express company approval for extra vacation pay.

Other examples:

Wrong:   I haven’t got nothing to say about it.

Right:     I don’t have anything to say about it.

Wrong:   He can’t write no better now than he could then.

Right:     He can’t write any better now than he could then.

Wrong:   He couldn’t hardly run a step.

Right:     He could hardly run a step.

Wrong:   Your invitation cannot at no time be accepted.

Right:     Your invitation cannot be accepted  at any time.               

Introducing yourself to, and using, personal pronouns, will substantially improve the quality of your writing, no matter what the level of sophistication of your reading audience may be.  Pronouns help your readers relate better to your writing by visualizing themselves in the text.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed.), defines a pronoun as “any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose references are named or understood in the context.”  The noun it replaces is called the antecedent.  Thus, in the sentence, gold is not only a rare metal, but it has become a symbol of wealth, gold is the antecedent of it.

As a reminder, the most common types of personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.  Pronouns can vary in person (first, second, or third) and in number (singular or plural).  Why use them?  Even with a knowledgeable reader, use of personal pronouns will dramatically improve the clarity of your writing.  They will,

–  help keep sentences short and concise

–  provide the information your reader wants to know in a logical order

–  determine who made the statement in question, or who is responsible for the action.

Pronouns also aid the reader in understanding your writing because they eliminate ambiguity and minimize abstract language by encouraging the use of more concrete, everyday words.  They also help to lock in reader interest by allowing you to “speak” directly to your reader and specify exactly who is being addressed.  Remember that you are speaking to the one person who is reading your document, even though it may affect the public at large.  For example,

You should carefully review your ballot before voting,

is clearer and more definite than,

The ballot should be carefully reviewed before voting.

Use of personal pronouns may also avoid the awkwardness of the he/she dilemma.

Thus,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today  and bought them each a hotdog,

is better than,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought him and her a hotdog.

You must provide the requisite information,  including name, address, and telephone number, when replying,

is better than,

The addressee must provide his or her name,  address, and telephone number when replying.

Good teachers should not lose their tempers,

is better than

A good teacher should not lose his or her temper.

Use of the pronoun in the foregoing examples eliminates confusion and allows the sentences to flow more smoothly.

All of the clear writing information posted on this and previous blogs on this site is contained in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” which is available at amazon.com/kindle or in print.   Check out my website at www.agregardie.com for further information.

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Use Shorter Sentences For Clear Writing

The longer and more complex a sentence is, the harder it will be for the reader to understand it or any portion of it.  No one likes to read a sentence that’s unwieldy.  Resist the temptation to include everything in one sentence.  A good rule of thumb is to express only one idea in a sentence.  This will reduce many sources of ambiguity.

Writing a company report that describes the company’s product and its pricing does not have to result in a reader’s nightmare.  Information-packed sentences leave most readers scratching their heads; they will get lost “in the trees without seeing the forest.”  The key is to strive for better organization.  Use shorter sentences in conjunction with shorter paragraphs.

The following one-sentence paragraph contains many shortcomings: 

          Before:

The ABC Natural Medicine Group   founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor  with many years of experience in the natural       medicine field, who was introduced to the formula used in this product while conducting research on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai, and was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing instead of following the path of      conventional medicine after seeing his father, once robust but who became sluggish, apathetic, and listless, which he attributed to         the damaging effects of a typical western diet, and will be introducing its premier high  potency, super energy health supplements later this year, composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients which allow for instant nutrient absorption, as well as other medicinal components including dried seahorses, ginseng, turtle plastron, aloe vera, and other plant and animal parts.

The difficulty with this paragraph is that it provides a lot of information without allowing the reader to take a breath or see any context.  The use of short sentences  broken up from the one long single sentence, together with some logical reorganizing of the sentence and the paragraph, provides context and makes this paragraph much easier to read as shown by the rewrite. 

          After:

The ABC Natural Medicine Group will introduce its premier, high potency super energy health supplements later this year.  They are composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients, which allow for instant nutrient absorption.

The Group was founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field.  He was introduced to the formula used in this product while conducting research on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai.

Instead of following the path of conventional medicine, Dr. Zhou was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing after seeing his father, once robust, become sluggish, apathetic, and listless.  He attributed this condition to the damaging effects of a typical western diet.

As is evident, breaking up the one long sentence into six shorter ones and three paragraphs has made the general, rambling         paragraph into three concise, specific ones.  The information only has to be read once to understand it.  Also, the components of the     medicine, dried seahorses, etc., have been deleted from the paragraph to facilitate the flow of information; these items are best left for a separate paragraph or even an appendix or supplement.

You can also shorten your sentences to make them easier to understand by replacing a negative phrase with one word that conveys the same thought. For example, “not the same” can be replaced with “different,” “does not have” can be replaced with “lacks,” and “does not include” can be replaced with “excludes.”

Avoid using longer words when shorter ones will suffice.  Instead of getting mired in a grammarian’s technical jargon as to whether a sentence contains a buried or hidden verb, you can train yourself to recognize certain words or phrases and try to eliminate or rewrite them as the context permits.  Thus, words ending in “tion” and “ment” can often be used in a different form without concern as to what grammatical label applies.  Instead of writing “You are required to make an application for a fishing license,” write “You are required to apply for a fishing ,license.”  In the same vein write “The cutback is not to be made unless authorized,” rather than “You must seek authorization for the cutback before making it.”

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

     

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