Monthly Archives: September 2013

Leave a Paper Trail Whenever Possible As Part of a Clear Writing Discipline

As mentioned in previous blogs, many years ago I was involved in the case when singer/actress/entertainer Doris Day won a huge monetary award against her former lawyer Jerry Rosenthal. The trial judge found Rosenthal’s representation of Day to have many faults. He also found Rosenthal’s testimony at trial to be non-believable. The judge’s decision was affirmed on appeal.

Despite these shortcomings, I found Rosenthal to have excellent writing skills. One of them was the regimen he followed to keep track of his writings, i.e., creation of a paper trail. His use (some would say “over use”) of this practice is described in more detail in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on books and in print. For ease of reference I have repeated here what I wrote in my book on this subject.

“In affirming the trial court’s decision, the appellate court tagged Rosenthal as a “notorious note-keeper,” not without considerable justification. (For clarification, it should be noted that I was not involved in the appeal). To this appellation, I would add the adjective “meticulous.” That Rosenthal had a propensity for writing memos and letters was clear from the huge paper trail he left in the case. The record was littered with his writings, often in his own handwriting. He wrote a memo to memorialize, well, everything, and letters to do the same. And every memo was inscribed with, not only his initials, but the date and the time it was created.

The trial judge in his final decision referred to the “patina” of paper created by Rosenthal, which surrounded the case. In other words, her thought that all of Rosenthal’s memos and letters were a cover up to disguise his wrongdoing, to give some semblance of authenticity to his conduct…

As part of this practice, Rosenthal made a dairy entry on May 11, 1956 to memorialize a conversation he had with Doris Day on that date explaining the May 11, 1956 retainer agreements he reached with her and Marty Melcher. In these agreements, Rosenthal was given a ten percent interest in the Melchers’ earnings and investments. Later in 1963, he and Melcher agreed to build a financial empire together using Day’s money as capital, together with Melcher’s business experience and Rosenthal’s legal experience as contributing factors. Pursuant to this “Empire Agreement,” Rosenthal was to withdraw from the practice of law so as to devote all of his time to building the empire and was to be paid a salary of $100,000 per year plus expenses. He would be a fifty percent partner with the Melchers.

The judge did not believe that Rosenthal could explain the May 11, 1956 agreements to Day in 25 minutes, as he testified, and so disbelieved his testimony about everything, including the 1956 fee agreements and the later Empire Agreement, despite finding certain “chicken tracks of irrefutable facts” surrounding the latter. The judge consequently disbelieved Rosenthal’s entire seventeen days of testimony in the case. This ruling was based on the “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” (false as to one thing, false as to everything) doctrine. An interesting doctrine which could have application outside the field of law, e.g., politics, it formed a major basis for the court’s findings against Rosenthal, including the finding that his services to the Melchers over approximately twenty years of time were absolutely worthless.

But, notwithstanding this ruling against Rosenthal, the point to be made is that your writing skills should be applied to pursue the very same “note keeping” practices used by him. Becoming immersed in the vast ocean of records in the case could not help but leave a definite impression on me. It provided the impetus for me to upgrade my own record keeping habits. I increased my efforts to memorialize all telephone conversations by note or memo, and to follow up telephone and other conversations by letter and, later, by email, where appropriate.

Agreements, formal or informal, deadlines, things to do, errands, etc., all deserve to be put in writing. It’s good personal and business practice to leave a paper trail whenever possible, not only as a reminder of deadlines, but so as to avoid any misunderstandings as to who said what, when it was said, where it was said, etc. I still follow these practices today.”

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

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

Use The Active Voice; Minimize The Passive Voice.

Using the active voice as opposed to the passive voice has been written about extensively. Much of it is confusing. The secret of the active voice is to simply write more directly. In other words, to borrow the thought from a legendary songwriter, the late 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. More than any other writing technique, use of the active voice will improve the quality of your writing.

The following examples reflect the difference:

Active – Albert and Bess missed the filing deadline for their tax return.

Passive – The deadline for filing their tax return was missed by Albert and Bess.

Active – A smart shopper buys only the freshest coffee.

Passive – Only the freshest coffee is bought by a smart shopper.

Active – The IRS has proposed new regulations.

Passive – New regulations have been proposed by the IRS.

Active – You need a fishing permit to fish in that lake.

Passive – A fishing permit is needed to fish in that lake.

Writing in the active voice will usually result in the elimination of abstract or vague words and a clearer, easier to understand sentence. Thus,

I purchased the airplane ticket,

is better than,

The airplane ticket was purchased by me.

We appreciated your report,

is better than,

Your report was appreciated by us.

Readers understand sentences in the active voice more quickly because the active voice is not only stronger and saves words but conveys the writer’s thought more directly.

Use the present tense of verbs, their strongest and simplest form, together with the active voice and a personal pronoun, to transform sentences and make them shorter, easier to understand, and more forceful and direct. Writing in the present tense helps to make your point clearly. Avoid the conditional or future tense when possible.

Before – The following summary is intended to assist buyers in understanding the costs and expenses that will be incurred if product A is purchased.

After – This summary describes costs and expenses that you will incur for the purchase of product A.

Another example:

Before – The subscription to the X Journal may be cancelled at any time.

After – You may cancel your subscription to the X Journal at any time.

Even a past event may be clarified by writing in the present tense as much as possible:

Your policy may not cover you
if you did not file a claim within
30 days of the date of injury.

The foregoing information may be found in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on Books, and in print.

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

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

An Open Letter To The President

Dear President Obama:

It has now become clear to the country and the entire world that you do not have any capacity to lead. The fiasco over Syria is only the latest in a whole string of leadership failures on your part. Russia is now the main player in Syria; your staggeringly inept diplomacy has allowed the U.S. to become a second rate power and a laughing stock. Leading from behind, your trademark, is not the answer in this scenario or any other. The details are a matter of record and need not be recounted here. Suffice it to say that you have allowed Russia’s President Putin to seize the moment in this diplomatic power struggle. The point is simply this, that you have been, and are now, unqualified and incompetent to lead this country, and should never have been elected in the first place. But the fault is with American politics, which allows someone such as you with no leadership qualifications but with a gift for talk (empty talk at that)to run for office and get elected. Now the country is paying the price for its folly. The sad part is that the country needs leadership and you are simply incapable of providing it.

Aside from Syria, you have failed after some five years in office to do anything about the country’s high rate of unemployment. The wealth of this country was built on private enterprise, not big government. But this is a truism of history that you simply ignore. The country is drifting in a sea of joblessness with no end in sight. Capitalism, the mother’s milk of economic growth, is being stifled because of your big government policies. For example, as a result of Obamacare, which punishes businesses for not providing full time employees with health care coverage, employers are hiring fewer full time people to avoid the harsh financial penalties for noncompliance. The full financial consequences of this unfortunate piece of legislation are still to be determined. You want to take credit for the Affordable Care Act, but the lack of full understanding of this law and its unpopularity with the public at large again exemplifies your lack of leadership.

You have also failed to lead the way on holding anyone responsible for the 9/11/2012 Benghazi attacks, which took the lives of four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. It is now a full year since the attacks occurred and few questions have been answered. The identity of the person(s) who gave/approved the “stand down” order which resulted in no military assistance being provided to those under siege is still unknown. If Hillary Clinton as then secretary of state is the one responsible for this act of incompetence, it should be revealed. The relatives of the deceased deserve better treatment from their own government. Your failure of leadership is again quite evident.

The Trans-Canada Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, with its attendant economic benefits including job creation is laying fallow because of political devotion to your environmental supporters. Environmental concerns can be overcome and should be subservient to the greater good from enabling of this pipeline project, not the least of which is energy independence and a reduction in U.S. reliance on oil imports from the middle east and Venezuela.

Mr. President, these are but a few of the concerns which need to be addressed because of your leadership failures.

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

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Techniques For Final Review Of Your Writing

There are several considerations involved in a final review of any writing. One of the most important is the appearance of the document. Writing that appears cluttered and dense will create a negative reaction in any reader. Strive to create well spaced documents with ample margins.

Organization of your writing is also important to help the reader to understand different levels of information. Break up your writing into visually manageable pieces. There should not be more than five to six sections on each page. The use of shorter sentences and paragraphs and grouping related items together will make it easier for the reader to understand your writing.

Be discreet in the use of emphasis. Use bold type or italics to highlight important points but use them in moderation for maximum effect. Don’t capitalize everything or underline too much.

Typeface selection, use of tables and graphics, and layout and color, are also factors to consider.

But nothing is more important than the elimination of spelling errors and the use of correct punctuation. These items are of paramount importance.

This point must be made absolutely clear: misspelled words will cause all of your hard work to sink – fast. So, be forewarned! It is absolutely imperative to make sure your spelling is correct. Misspelled words in particular are the bane of good writing; nothing will undermine your hard work and turn a reader off faster than a misspelled word, particularly if it’s a common one. You must take the time to check the spelling of any word that looks suspicious to you. Resorting to a dictionary for new or difficult words should be the first and ongoing choice.

Many writers shortcut the correct spelling of words either because they don’t know the correct spelling or are too lazy to find out. Spelling “nite” instead of “night,” and “thru” instead of “through” is the result of careless, sloppy, or lazy writing and is disfavored in good writing. Don’t take any shortcuts with your spelling; they will stamp you as an amateur.

Another solution is to record all misspelled words on a separate sheet of paper; the act of writing down the correct spelling should in itself help you remember it. Keep this paper handy for continued reference and add to it on a regular basis. Try to understand why each word was misspelled.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization. Good golfers are said to visualize each shot before hitting it. If it works in golf, it can work in spelling. Teach yourself to picture the correct spelling of all misspelled words in your mind. Concentrate on the correct spelling of these words to be sure you see every letter. Then look away, spell the word, and look back for verification. Repeat this procedure on a regular basis until you can instantly recognize the correct spelling of each previously misspelled word.

Clear writing also requires the use of correct punctuation.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis, or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts. But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information. Without punctuation, all writing would be a jumble of words. The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer. This entails knowing how to use end marks, commas, apostrophes,quotation marks, semicolons, colons, dashes, and ellipsis. An accomplished writer will also be skilled in the use of parentheses and brackets, and be able to distinguish between the two.

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

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