Monthly Archives: October 2013

Help Improve The Economy – Learn To Write Clearly

The ability to communicate clearly is a basic ingredient for success in any endeavor. In today’s world of mass communication, it is essential for anyone who wants to get ahead. Thus, the power of the written word is more important than ever before. It’s your key to the future. Clear writing is a marketable skill, one that employers will gladly pay for. If you write clearly, there may be job openings you can qualify for which would otherwise be unavailable. This skill is very important at any time but even more so in today’s struggling economy. Moreover,as more skilled workers enter the workforce, the stronger our economy will be. So, learning to write clearly will not only benefit you personally but will benefit the country.

Clear written communication skills will also enhance your opportunities for advancement if you are now employed. An employer will recognize you and single you out for greater responsibility (and more pay) once you are proficient with the written word. An employee with clear writing skills will be in a better position to help his/her employer increase sales and profitability, which is always the bottom line in any business.

As has been pointed out in this blog previously, learning to write more clearly begins with the practice of writing itself. Dedicate yourself to writing every day. The more you write, the greater your confidence will grow. And also read regularly. The more you read, the greater your knowledge of good writing habits will become. Expose yourself to experienced writers whenever and wherever you can. Learn from their style. No less an authority on writing than Stephen King, in his book, “On Writing”, clearly emphasizes the importance of reading: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. It’s as simple as that…”

It is also important to make a list of all new words, learn them, and learn how to use them. Become familiar with all punctuation marks and their application. Train your eye to learn good grammar by word association rather than by definition. This should be your homework, so to speak. The more thoroughly you apply yourself, the clearer your writing will be.

There are many writing writing guidelines and techniques discussed in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on books and in print. Follow these guidelines and develop these techniques by continuous practice. An important step in thi8s direction is to build your vocabulary so you can find the right word when you need it. Also, be concise in your writing. Use shorter sentences, carefully and thoroughly edit all writing before using it and, most importantly, eliminate all spelling errors. Poor spelling will stamp you as an amateur writer, or worse.

Writing is no different from any other undertaking in life You have to start at the beginning to master it. But the rewards are enormous and well worth your time. All art is created through the exercise of a craft such as painting, sculpting, etc. 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 worth the effort. Remember that a clearly written document speaks well of the writer and the purpose it seeks to advance.

Begin with a positive attitude toward writing. Developing the right mental attitude will be a major step toward improvement. This will come from building confidence in your writing which in turn will come with continuous writing experience. So, write every day to expedite your improvement.

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

“Common Sense” Revisited In The 21st Century – A Requirement For Presidential Leadership Should Be Written Into The Constitution

It was back in early 1776 that Thomas Paine argued in his pamphlet “Common Sense” for independence by America from the British Crown because it made good sense to do so. The little booklet was a big hit selling 100,000 copies and providing a huge emotional uplift in the run up to the American Revolution.

There is more than enough room for common sense in this time as well. In view of the total and complete lack of experience of President Obama in making decisions and providing the leadership required to properly run the country, it makes good sense to impose an important new qualification for anyone seeking the presidential office, i.e., he/she must have had substantial experience in governance in order to be considered as a candidate. Only by showing that the candidate has leadership abilities, governed people for some quantifiable period of time, made important decisions, and demonstrated the ability to solve problems including fiscal and budgetary problems and, importantly, including the ability to negotiate and compromise when necessary, should the candidate be considered as qualified to run for President.

This approach is eminently sensible. In a country of some 300 million people, it makes no sense to put someone in charge of running the country unless that person has clearly demonstrated the ability to do so. That qualification would exclude a candidate who has merely served in Congress or a state legislature without more, i.e., a demonstrated capacity for leadership. No successful private corporation would allow anyone to become Chairman of the Board unless that person has previously exhibited the ability to make the important decisions to run the company profitably. That individual will inevitably have experience in effectively overseeing a large number of people, have demonstrated the ability to solve problems, possess the ability to negotiate and compromise when necessary, make difficult budgetary decisions, and make decisions about what direction the company should be headed to insure profitability. On the job training is out of the question. The same qualities should be present in anyone seeking to run the country.

As things now stand, American presidential politics is a joke, and the joke is on us. The presidency is no place for amateurs. Nor should it be a popularity contest. The country cannot afford a repeat of the current fiasco, to wit, the election of an unqualified and inexperienced but smooth talking politician with no clearly demonstrated leadership skills. To proceed otherwise makes no sense. Today’s world is vastly more complicated than the world of 1788 when the Constitution was signed. To maintain its position as the world leader, the United States must have a president who can lead, not an inexperienced politician. A constitutional amendment to this effect reflecting the foregoing qualifications as a prerequisite for running for office is clearly justified.

There is no doubt when the Constitution was adopted that the Founding Fathers contemplated presidential candidates of special ability, candidates other than inexperienced politicians. Such qualifications are expressly provided for in The Federalist, a series of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in 1787-1788, to further the public’s understanding and support of the forthcoming Constitution of the United States. The following words from Federalist No. 68, penned by Alexander Hamilton, clearly envisioned well qualified presidential candidates:

“This process of election [use of electors] affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents of low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honours [sic] of a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it, as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters preeminent for ability and virtue…”

With apologies to Thomas Paine, if these are indeed “times that try men’s souls,” then it behooves the country to take all necessary and proper steps to see that these times are not revisited. The country has an obligation not only to itself but to the world at large to make sure that only qualified candidates with well defined leadership skills become President. Otherwise, we are in for more of the same political and fiscal quagmire that pervades Washington today. This situation has attendant dangerous ramifications for all of us in terms of our monetary stability and our national security, i.e., our survival as a nation.

Copyright 2013 Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.


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

The President’s Legacy – A Failure To Communicate

What’s happening today in Washington, D.C. brings to mind an oft-quoted line from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” starring Paul Newman, “What we have got is a failure to communicate.” That line still resonates today. Nowhere is a failure to communicate more glaring than the existing gridlock over the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, ongoing between President Obama and Congress these days.

After many years of practicing law in California and settling countless cases, I can safely say that the essential ingredient for any successful settlement is communication. Each side must talk to the other. Many settlement judges used the time-honored strategem of putting both sides in a closed room with the instruction not to come out until they have resolved their issues. Both sides must give a little. As one judge put it, if both sides are unhappy with the end result, there has been a successful settlement approach.

But President Obama’s approach to resolving the impasse in Washington only reflects his total and complete lack of experience in the real world of negotiations. He says that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans but only after they agree to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. I never once saw a settlement work where one party says in effect, “give me everything I want and then I’ll talk to you.” With apologies to Shakespeare, the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves. The man in the White House was elected and then re-elected. Now we are paying for it.

A failure to communicate is a recipe for continuation of the deadlocked issues. In Washington, the end result is a malfunctioning government. It stems from a president who is acting like a partisan politician instead of a president. A real president knows how to lead. Real leadership means reaching out to both sides to resolve their issues. The White House’s stubborn failure to negotiate on the government shutdown is clearly not in the country’s best interests. It is nothing more than a diversionary tactic, a “thinly veiled” (to use the President’s own words) political ploy dreamed up by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to try to foist blame on Speaker John Boehner and the House controlled Republican party to influence the outcome of the coming 2014 midterm congressional elections.

Speaker Boehner wants to tie the resolution of the government shutdown to taking steps to curtail government spending as well as to talks on lifting the debt ceiling and modification of some aspects of Obamacare. These are laudable objectives, ones that deserve serious consideration from the White House and the Senate. The tax and spend mentality of the democratic party is nowhere more evident than now. Big government and more government spending is not the answer to the problems of the country. The wealth of this country has been driven in large part by private enterprise. With the economy sputtering, unemployment still at unacceptably high rates, and many businesses leaning toward only hiring part-time help because of the threat of incurring Obamacare financial penalties if full time employees are not covered, it’s time to seriously reform the country’s spending habits. Increasing the debt ceiling without accompanying restraints on spending is not the answer. Mr. Boehner is on the right track and deserves the country’s undivided support.

Shakespeare also wrote that some men are born into greatness, some have it thrust upon them, and some achieve it during their lifetimes. (“Twelfth Night”). President Obama doesn’t fit into any of these categories. As the first man of color to be elected president, he has earned the chance to achieve greatness. So far he has failed to take advantage of the opportunity. His legacy, as things now stand, will not be greatness but that of a president who has failed to communicate. It is a legacy of failure.

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Use The Right Word To Achieve Clear Writing

Don’t settle for approximations of your thoughts. Imprecise words and expressions detract from clarity and may cause your reader to question all the other statements you make. Generalities will roll off a reader like water off a duck’s back. Accuracy of word usage is what you are after. The mental discipline of searching for and finding the right word will pay huge dividends for you in developing a clear writing style.

For example, writing that the XYZ machine is a “bad” product is far too general. “Bad” is a very overworked word and not very specific in this context. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed., p. 91, reveals “failing to reach an acceptable standard,” as the first choice for definition of this word. Thus, writing that the XYZ machine requires far too many repairs to meet acceptable consumer standards is an obvious gain in specificity.

“Cool” is another greatly overused word in today’s society. It is often used in everyday conversation to signify the speaker’s acceptance of a thought, description, etc., uttered by another. But it has little place in formal writing.

For example, if you were to write that Murphys, California is a “cool” place to visit, the reader would have little understanding of what you mean and would have no incentive to go there. But if you wrote that it’s nestled in the farmland of the upper San Joaquin Valley, that you must drive through rolling pastoral countryside to get there, that it’s a living remnant of the Old West, and that it’s a shopper’s delight complete with casual dining and a nearby winery, the added specificity will make a visit sound much more inviting.

An overly general choice of words is frequently the mark of a lazy mind. Sharpen your word selection by resorting to an unabridged dictionary. A general word will usually have many definitions to choose from to make your meaning definite. When a shorter synonym for a word is available, use it. Often you will find that the use of a shorter synonym for the word you are using is the best option. Use common words such as “end” instead of “terminate”, “explain” rather than “elucidate,” and “use” instead of “utilize.”

In the last blog I referred to my involvement in the case where Doris Day won a large monetary award against her former attorney, Jerry Rosenthal. As I pointed out, the court found that Rosenthal had many faults in his representation of Day. Nevertheless, he had valuable writing skills.

One writing trait of Rosenthal that I still remember was his penchant – call it a phobia – for using the right word, whether in writing or speaking. Rosenthal boasted to me one day that the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court had advised him that his framing of the issue in a petition he had written was the most clearly worded issue the clerk had ever seen. His fixation on word selection, together with his extensive vocabulary and his flair for writing, piqued my own long standing interest in that subject and caused me to focus on my writing even more readily.

The bottom line is this: take the time to find and use the right words, the precise words, to fully express your thoughts in writing. It will be well worth your time.

I have covered all of this and more in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on books, and in print.

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


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