My book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/kindle books and in print, contains many guidelines and techniques on clear writing. Here is an excerpt:
In today’s world, language is predominant. It is vital to all communications, and is the key to your personal and business success. The power of the written word is far reaching and depends in turn on the quality of your writing. Writing is therefore of utmost importance.
The ability to write clearly is a requirement for anyone trying to get ahead. Without it, you have little chance to inform or persuade others. Unclear writing wastes both time and money. Your success will largely depend on how well you express yourself.
Whether you are writing for a personal or business purpose, it is the writer’s job to be clear, not the reader’s job to figure out what you’re trying to say. The March Hare’s admonition to Alice, “…you should say what you mean,” also applies perforce to writing. (See: “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland,” 97, Lewis Carroll, New Ed., MacMillan & Co., 1885). Remember, you are promoting yourself when you write. Poor writing will not only lead to loss of credibility but will stamp you as an amateur and may well cause your reader to stop reading. Good writing sells itself.
Even lawyers, with all their education, are not always good writers. In a profession which devotes extensive time and effort to the written word, it may be surprising to learn that lawyers and judges still strive to improve their writing skills. Bryan Garner, a well known attorney and respected authority in the field of legal writing, has devoted extensive time to lecturing and writing on the subject of legal writing for judges and lawyers. His excellent writing lectures, several of which I attended, have been given across the country. One of his publications, “The Winning Brief,” which I used extensively as a practicing lawyer, contains a wealth of writing tips which should be useful to non-lawyers as well as lawyers. (See: “The Winning Brief,” Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press, 1999). This is another lead to pursue for those of you really serious about improving your writing.
Clear writing is easy to say, but what exactly does it mean? The term defies definition, but you know it when you see it. Clear writing means using words effectively. It is evidenced by the orderly and logical presentation of information using everyday language that readers can easily understand. It is well organized, concise and follows other good writing practices as discussed in this book.
A clearly written document should be easy to read and visually attractive so it looks like it’s meant to be read. One practical way of attaining clearness is by fully thinking out what you want to say. Sloppy thinking produces sloppy writing. So, cultivate a habit of accuracy in thinking. Select your words carefully, avoid excess language, and use words economically. This will go a long way toward achieving clarity.
Write as you talk in a natural, conversational tone, one on one, in a way that is not stilted or artificial. More than one writing authority has suggested that it makes good sense to write with a specific person in mind, giving that person the information you would want to receive in return.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to ask the following question at each stage of the writing process: can my thoughts be presented any more clearly?
This book breaks with the traditional approach to teaching English grammar in that it eschews memorization of rules. Memorization of grammar rules is of little use except to pass examinations. It has been my personal experience that as you train yourself to observe and appreciate good writing, you can likewise train yourself to develop and employ good writing habits in constructing sentences. This result cannot be accomplished by memorization of rules, which will have little effect on learning and understanding the context with which words are
used. But, when in doubt, look up the rule.
The best expression of thoughts through good grammar can be learned by observing the association of the right word with the appropriate context in a sentence. The emphasis should be on training your eye to carefully observe how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what you have learned in your writing. The point was well made many years ago by the late Sherwin Cody, who authored several books and self study courses on writing and learning good English. Learn grammar by “original processes”, he wrote, “not by authorities and rules.” (See: “New Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language,” 59, Sherwin Cody, 1933, 1938).
Increase your own value to others by learning to write clearly. It will pay huge dividends for you.
Copyright©2014. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.