Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lessons From the Past – Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, And The Declaration of Independence

My book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available on amazon.com at Kindle Books and in print) contains several historical vignettes to illustrate the flexibility of different kinds of paragraphing and the correct use of punctuation.   I’ve focused on Thomas Jefferson in this blog to illustrate two writing lessons:  one to show the use of  different kinds of punctuation, and the other to show how powerful concise writing can be.  Here’s the first:

“Engineering The Louisiana Purchase – A Look Back

It was the hallmark of President 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 that bordered on the western side of America, he cast that belief aside and 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 Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, in securing peace with France during the so-called “Quasi War,” which ended in 1800.

There was considerable doubt as to the constitutional power to make such a purchase. But when the identical issue came before the Supreme Court in 1828 in a  different case, 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.” (See:  John Marshall, Definer of a Nation,335, Jean Edward Smith, Henry Holt & Company, 1996, quoting from American Insurance Co. v. Canter, 1 Peters 511, (1828), a case involving the purchase of  Florida, but where the issue was the same as that involving the Louisiana Purchase.)”

As to the second lesson, writing with conciseness, my book devotes an entire chapter to avoiding faulty diction.  The choice of correct, clear and effective words is defined as diction.  One of the pitfalls of faulty diction is the use of excess language, or failure to be concise.

Holding your reader’s attention after getting the reader’s attention can be a challenge.  The best way to do this is to avoid the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to expressan idea. Tautology, the needless repetition of an idea in different words, is a fancy word for it, but it’s nothing more than sloppy writing.  Dense, wordy paragraphs and long, rambling, disorganized writing is certain to cause reader discontent and exasperation.  Such writing amounts to pomposity, which will turn your reader off.  Use familiar words.  Write in a conversational and welcoming tone, not stilted or artificial.

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 an unintended meaning.  Less is usually more.  Try to accomplish this result by “squeezing”  your writing until all needless words have been eliminated.  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.

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

.

2 Comments

Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, history, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

Confidence Is At The Root Of The Power To Persuade

Last week this blog discussed the use of narrative and descriptive paragraphing to promote nutritional supplements.  The point to be made is that the power to persuade is of singular importance in most writing.  It is the one standout quality of all successful copy writing. Successful copy writing must:

           Start with a compelling idea.

Clearly state the idea.

      Be specific in the writing.

These admonitions undoubtedly apply to all writing.

I’m reminded of Thomas Paine’s little booklet, “Common sense,” which he published in early 1776.  It argued for separation of the American colonies from the British Crown because it made good sense to do so.  It became a runaway best seller, selling 100,000 copies in a short period of time, and was a strong part of the emotional run-up to the American Revolution.

Persuasive writing is a product of confidence in writing.  Confidence only comes from continued practice of writing coupled with extensive reading.  The two go hand-in-glove.

You must develop a belief in the strength of your writing to be good at it.  Belief is the core factor.

Where do you start?  Begin with a positive attitude toward what you’re doing, whether writing or speaking.  John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and a prominent lawyer by trade, successfully argued to the jury during the Boston Massacre trial of 1770 that “facts are stubborn things” and cannot be changed no matter how strong are your passions.  Adams strongly believed in the rule of law and that the British soldiers he defended (successfully, it should be added), who were accused of murder when they fired their muskets into an angry mob, were innocent.

Thoughts are also things according to Napoleon Hill, author of the influential and best selling personal achievement book, Think and Grow Rich.  Hill postulated that thoughts can be very powerful things when mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a burning desire for success.

I’m also reminded of Tim Gallwey’s best seller, The Inner Game of Tennis, which is largely about developing the ability to focus your attention on the task at hand.  It is more about solving life’s problems by learning the art of relaxed focus and attention to achieve peak mental performance, i.e., getting into a “zone”, than playing tennis.

         

Clear writing thus depends to a large extent on the power of belief, belief that comes from having confidence in your writing.  When you have that confidence, it will show – the reader can see it.  To obtain confidence you must master what can best be described as the “inner game” of writing, overcoming mental blocks to clear writing.  As with other challenges in life, you must develop the right mental attitude.  In other words, you can’t write clearly if you are nagged by anxiety and self doubt about your writing.  Persistence and determination to write well are omnipotent.

Years ago, a personal development writer named Dr. Maxwell Maltz created a program called psycho-cybernetics.  It was very popular and was followed by Tony Robbins, Sig Siglar, and others.  Maltz taught that to develop self-confidence, the following steps are important:

1.   Focus on a daily plan

2.   Use a graph or chart to monitor your progress

3.   Get feedback from others as to how well you’re going.

4.   Reward yourself as you make progress

5.   Avoid burnout – take a break to relax and reenergize yourself.

These steps can also be adapted to a writing improvement plan.  As urged in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com in print and on Kindle Books, an important part of the approach to clear writing is to develop confidence in your writing by writing- and reading- extensively.  This will help you to build a powerful vocabulary, probably the single most important step to writing with confidence. You can’t write clearly and with confidence unless you have an ample supply of words at your disposal.

Make a list of all new words you encounter.  Learn what they mean and how to spell them.  Write something on a daily basis, even if it’s only a letter to yourself,  using as many of the new words in your writing as practicable.  Monitor your progress by keeping track of the words you use – you don’t need a graph or chart for this.  Then, have someone review what you have written.   If the reviewer is satisfied with your writing, the self- satisfaction from having successfully used one or more new words should be reward enough.   After your writing task is complete, relax and think about it.  Focus on what you have written.  The mind works best when relaxed.  Often, new thoughts will come to you.

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

     

Leave a comment

Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, history, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

Clear Writing For Profit Requires Strong, Well-Knit Paragraphs

It is axiomatic that well constructed paragraphs are the foundation for clear writing.  The effectiveness of any writing depends on how well you have constructed your paragraphs.  But, the overriding question remains,  once you have attained clear writing skills, how can you use those skills to make any money?

I recently received an email from a well known copywriter, Robert Bly.  He claims that writing direct response sales letters for the health products industry is one of the highest paying niches in the copyrighting field.

Recent blogs on my site have featured illustrations of the use of paragraphing to describe real-life events.  Three weeks ago I used descriptive paragraphing to describe a major Civil War battle, Gettysburg.  The next week, it was used to describe the impact of the 1849 discovery of gold in California on today’s world monetary affairs.  Today’s blog takes a different tack. In order to demonstrate how clear writing techniques may be used in the nutritional products field, I have written a proposed sales letter which combines narrative paragraphing with descriptive paragraphing to describe a make-believe health product I’ve called Super Elixir.  Some of this information also appears in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com in Kindle Books and in print.  Here it is.

[This is a fictitious case study using a fictitious health product and a fictitious consumer. It features a make-believe interview with a fictitious doctor named Dr. Martin Zhou.  Any similarity to actual events, products, organizations, or people, is purely coincidental.  It is taken from an essay I wrote as part of a writing course I studied some time ago.]

HOW TO REDUCE GOOD NUTRITION TO AN ART FORM.

If you believe that you can attain the life form you want through good nutrition, I have a product is for you.  It is a vitamin supplement unlike any other.  Its use will eliminate the need to choose from the staggering array of vitamin supplements on the market.  It’s called Super Elixir.

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.  They also believed that the life forces which swirled through every human body could be nurtured and enhanced by good nutrition.  Ancient healing gods focused on the concept of a mind-body relationship, that mind and body are a unity, and to affect one affects the other.  A strong belief in good health was therefore deemed essential.

If you believe you can achieve the life form you want through good nutrition this product is for you.  It is a unique vitamin supplement which will supercharge your vitamin regimen unlike any other.  It will streamline efforts to balance the staggering array of vitamin supplements available on the market against your particular needs.  The art of natural healing is a skill acquired by experience, study, and observation. This supplement gives you the benefits of the natural healing discovery made by Dr. Martin Zhou, as explained below.  It includes assessing your needs, evaluating the merits of taking a vitamin supplement and, most importantly, understanding how to choose them.

What can you do BEFORE THE DOCTOR COMETH to ward off disease?  Early intervention before any symptoms appear is essential to mental and physical well being.  It is possible to become skillful in the pursuit of good nutrition.  If you believe you can achieve and maintain good health by selecting the right nutritional supplement, then please read on.

“Hello.  My name is Dr. Martin Zhou.  My discovery can be your discovery.  Do you believe in natural healing?  I do.  I came across a natural healing supplement while on sabbatical in a small town near Shanghai a few years ago.  I bought the rights to it and renamed it Super Elixir.  It’s the most beneficial health product I ever used.”

Dr. Martin Zhou should know.  He’s a medical doctor and an internationally acclaimed nutrition specialist.  He stumbled on Super Elixir, a health supplement developed and marketed by a small, local Shanghai company.  He was motivated to pursue the benefits of this natural healing product, a form of traditional Chinese medicine,  instead of following the precepts of conventional medicine after seeing his father, once healthy and robust, become listless, sluggish, and apathetic.  Dr. Zhou attributed the decline in his father’s mental and physical health to the damaging effects of his diet.  After that, he resolved to pursue other healing options.

The benefits of natural healing were accidentally discovered by Dr. Zhou after a long search for effective nutritional supplements.  Dr. Zhou had believed in the mind-body relationship, as held by ancient healers, that mind and body are a unity, and to affect one affects the other.  A strong belief in good health was deemed essential to this relationship.

Super Elixir is not voodoo, black magic, or snake oil, but a studied, intelligent approach to good nutrition.  It uses superb ingredients to enhance the body’s natural focus on disease prevention and attainment of optimum health. It is not a food supplement, but if you’re not eating enough healthy foods including a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, poultry, and fish, you likely need a food supplement.  Also, those of you in weight training if you’re an athlete, dancer, or similar type with resultant dietary imbalance, would be good candidates for Super Elixir.

That’s it for the make-believe case study.  There’s much more, however, that could be written about any health supplement if you really put your mind to it.  But, this will give you some idea of what can be done.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

Persuasive Paragraphing Is Often Used By An Advocate

     

Persuasive writing is typically employed by a salesperson to sell a product or service.  Advertising and copywriting are probably the most prevalent examples.  But, persuasive writing can also be used by a trial lawyer to advocate a position. This example of the use of persuasive paragraphing appears in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” which is available on amazon.com in print and on Kindle Books.

“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 files the case takes a lot of risk.  That lawyer 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 intended class as a lawful 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 may result in a court order and resulting judgment correcting questionable company practices such as putting a dangerous or unhealthy product on the market.  Moreover, class actions are often settled.  A settlement usually creates a class fund, which is approved by the court, used to compensate individual class members for damages suffered, and to pay attorneys fees.  Under these circumstances, the lawyer’s pay is earned.

The most satisfying class action I filed was brought against two banks, Bank One, and First USA Bank.  These banks are no longer in business.  The lawsuit alleged that the banks violated the federal telemarketing act by using their customers’ credit card information for telemarketing purposes without the customers’ knowledge or consent.  This case was certified for class action with a class of approximately four million California credit card holders and was ultimately settled in the six to seven million dollar range.  Settlement proceeds, after attorneys fees and costs, were distributed to court approved charities because it was not practicable, in view of the small individual losses, to distribute any money to individual credit card holders.”

In order to add to the readability of my book as well as to further illustrate the uses of descriptive paragraphing, I took the liberty of adding two recipes to the book.  Here is one of them:

“This

is a little easier to digest [than the recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini.  It is] a recipe for California “Gold Rush” Brownies.  It also illustrates the flexibility of descriptive paragraphing.  This recipe is a piece of cake (no pun intended) compared to the recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini above.

Only four ingredients are required, as follows:   30 whole Honey Maid graham crackers, 2 – 14 ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon of milk, and 12 ounces of chocolate chips.

Break up the graham crackers and add them, a few at a time, to a food processor, grinding them
until very fine.  Place the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl with the sweetened condensed milk and 1 tablespoon of regular milk.  Mix well and blend in the chocolate chips.  Add chopped nuts, if desired.

Place the mixture into a well buttered 9 by 12 inch baking pan, pressing down evenly.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven about 25 to 30 minutes until the sides start to separate from the pan.  These brownies are best when soft, so don’t overcook them as they will become too dry.

Let the brownies cool before cutting them into squares.  This recipe makes 24 to 30 squares, depending on how big they are cut and what size pan is used.

WARNING:  These brownies are habit forming and disappear fast.  You’ll have to taste them to believe it!”

I have used the two recipes as well as several historical vignettes to make my book entertaining as well as useful.  Among other things, it encourages writing every day as well as extensive reading to overcome the hidden fears of writing and to bolster confidence.  It also teaches that good grammar may be learned by word association through reading rather than memorization of rules.  The book may be previewed free of charge on amazon.com.

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

 

      

 

Leave a comment

Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Uncategorized, Writing Improvement