Monthly Archives: August 2014

Finding and Using The Right Word is Pivotal For Clear Writing

At a recent 2-day business symposium I attended, the  written materials furnished to all attendees unfortunately contained a few typos.   One of the more glaring mistakes was where the author wrote “capitol management” instead of “capital management.”  This mistake brought to mind an article I posted back in November , 2012, dealing with word selection.   It is still very relevant today.  Here’s the article, with minor modifications.

Last week’s blog emphasized the need to have correct diction, the choice of correct, clear, and effective words, as a step towards clear writing. There are several pitfalls to avoid.  Being concise in your writing and eliminating excess language is part of this process. Having a powerful vocabulary is also necessary to achieve this goal.   But a strong vocabulary will also help to avoid another pitfall on the road to correct diction – failure to use the exact word.  Using the correct word is of singular importance in your writing.  It ranks right up there with correct spelling.  It is the mark of an accomplished writer.

Searching for, finding, and using, the right word is a process I’ve learned to focus on for many years.   Many years ago I was involved in defending Doris Day’s lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, against legal malpractice charges.   Despite his many legal shortcomings as found by the court,  I was always impressed with Rosenthal’s writing skills, and in particular with his efforts to find and use the exact word he wanted to express his thinking, whether in writing or speaking. He had a fixation on word selection, and an extensive vocabulary to go with it.  He 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. My involvement in this case and the writing tips I picked up are discussed in more detail in my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available at amazon.com/kindlebooks and in print.

Don’t settle for approximations of your thoughts.  Imprecise words and expressions detract from clarity and may cause your reader to question all  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 U.S. Government has attempted to encourage the development of better writing in the Plain Writing Act of 2009, which inspired some of the ideas used in my eBook.  This legislation is an attempt by Congress to enhance citizen access to government information by mandating that government documents issued to the public must be written in plain English.  But as pointed out in the Acknowledgements for my eBook, the government’s use of the term “plain writing” is not as accurate as the use of “clear writing” would be, because the former is somewhat ambiguous.  What is “plain” writing?  Is it “plain” because it is not fancy, because it is not written in some esoteric script, or for some other unknown reason?   The mental discipline of searching for and finding the right word will pay huge dividends for you in developing a clear writing style.

The use of the word “cool,” greatly overused in today’s society, is a good example of a word which has no precise meaning. It has little place in formal writing.  Use of precise words to describe exactly what you see in a certain locale is one example of where specificity is greatly needed.  Generalization here will fall flat.  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.

If you were writing a review of a machine and you simply wrote that it is a “bad” product, this description is far too general. “Bad” is an overworked word and not very specific in this context. But if you wrote that the machine requires far too many repairs to meet acceptable consumer standards, this is an obvious gain in specificity.

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.”

Copyright 2014.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hillary Clinton – A Non-Entity With No Credibility

Last Sunday the Wall Street Journal published an article which referred to Hillary Clinton’s recent “hawkish” views. This article was objectionable in my view because it provided some semblance of credibility to Hillary’s political posture. This attempt at foisting some credibility upon her is totally and completely misplaced. She is not qualified to hold any public office. She is unqualified and incompetent. Period. The views I posted on this site some 2 years ago about her tenure as secretary of state are still relevant to her purported qualifications for office today. Here is what I wrote.

The Secretary of Mistate, Mistake, er, State.

What makes a great Secretary of State? By what marks is he/she defined? Carrying out the president’s foreign policy? Getting treaties signed? There are no easy definitions. But you know a great Secretary when you see one.
Appointing Hillary as Secretary of State, as his first cabinet post, marked Obama as a lightweight, because she is a lightweight. She is in fact a no- weight. I can’t begin to find any credence in this appointment. At the time of her appointment Hillary had no experience in foreign affairs; she never wrote, lectured, taught, or spoke on it, nor has she done anything since her appointment to distinguish her as as deserving of the appointment, nor as being a great or even a good one.

Maybe it’s because Obama has no foreign policy to speak of, none that can be defined.
Her lack of experience in public office preceded her into the present job. She was elected to the U.S. Senate – in a very liberal state of course. But she flew in on the back of her husband, an impeached president, who disgraced himself, his family, the White House and the country. She certainly was no leader of any kind in the senate, not having introduced any resolutions that come to mind.

Even before that when entrusted with “Hillarycare” by husband Bill, this endeavor, decried by many as a form of socialized medicine, was a miserable failure. The book, “It Takes A Village,” ostensibly written by her, did nothing to further the cause for her program. The book was a fraud, falsely proclaiming a crisis in education and then clamoring for government intervention to cure the non-existent crisis.

Once in a while Hillary makes a little whimper of noise about one thing or another, but in actuality she does nothing. Joining other nations in favor of a change of leadership in Syria does nothing to show her leadership. Clearly, on Obama’s part, the appointment was an act of political expedience, just to get her out of his way and keep her quiet – so far as attacking him or his administration, that is.

Today’s (2/25/12) liberal leaning LA Times carries an article proclaiming that “Clinton Hints at Coup Against Assad.” The writer, Patrick J. McDonnell, attempts to provide Hillary with some credibility by pointing out that she is one of the leaders of a coalition calling itself “Friends of Syria.” The writer credits her with calling for Assad’s security forces to oust him, citing the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, where militaries stepped in to oust “longtime autocratic leaders” (i.e., dictators) after popular protests. Of course, joining others in the swell of protest against Assad does not exactly stamp her as a leader.

A clear sign of her lack of credibility is the fact that as of 2/24/12, she has no part in talks between the U.S. and North Korea concerning food aid to the impoverished country, dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, and other issues. The U.S. is represented by Glyn Davies, who is described as special representative for North Korean policy. Hillary is nowhere in sight.

The main problem with Hillary’s holding any public office is that she has little if any credibility. Remember, when she ran for president, she was caught in a bald-faced lie – claiming she was caught in sniper fire in [Bosnia] when landing there during a visit. This was a total lie, which she later admitted. So, can you believe anything she says? As all trial lawyers will know, there is a jury instruction you can ask the trial judge to give if the evidence warrants it i.e., falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. What this means is that if the jury finds that the defendant (or a witness) lied about one thing, the jury can find that the defendant (or witness) lied about everything.

And of course hubby Bill was no slouch at lying either.

So much for Hillary’s credibility. Who’s going to believe her?

It’s not to late for Hillary to remove herself from the limelight and move into the kitchen, where she can concentrate on making toll house cookies. There, at least, she can hopefully avoid putting her foot in her mouth. But, of course, with her, anything’s possible.

Copyright 2012. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Remembering President Richard Nixon – 40 Years Later

On March 1, 2012, I published a blog about President Richard Nixon. He resigned from the presidency 40 years ago, on August 9, 1974, the only president to do so. Despite the shadow of Watergate, he accomplished a lot as president. To honor his presidency, here is a reprint of my blog.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON’S EMBRACE OF “RED CHINA” – A MASTER STROKE OF FOREIGN POLICY.
The impact of relations between the U.S. and China should be examined in the context of President Richard Nixon’s legacy.

Before Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the U.S. fades from memory, and bearing mind the occasion of President Obama’s visit to China in 2009, it is fitting to put those visits in historical perspective. Recall that it was President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Peking in 1972, some 40 years ago, which opened the door to improved relations with “Red China,” as the Chinese mainland was then known. This trip took place after two decades of bitter hostility, isolation, and non-existent diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. The two countries had no framework in place for dealing with each other.

Some would say there is nothing about Richard Nixon worth remembering. But if one can cast aside the disgrace of Watergate and the horrors of Vietnam, horrors he inherited from his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson, and focus instead on the visit to China, it stands out as a major foreign policy accomplishment, one which should have earned Nixon the Nobel Peace Prize. Whatever else the personal shortcomings of Richard Nixon were, and there were apparently many, credit should be given where credit is due. Opening up the gateway to China was a brilliant master stroke of foreign policy which revolutionized world diplomacy and world trade. It was all the more remarkable in light of Nixon’s strong anti-communist stance during his political career.

The benefits of Nixon’s decision cannot be understated. What had been a miniscule dollar amount of trade between the two countries, roughly five billion dollars in 1979, has grown to the staggering total of between four hundred billion and five hundred billion dollars today. Moreover, cultural exchanges continue apace, involving many hundreds of exchange students. Last year there were over 3 million mutual visits between the two countries. Further, China, while still harboring a communist government, embraces an emerging capitalist economy, resulting in an ever improving life style for its people. For example, China today is the number one automobile market in the world. American capitalistic icons GM and Ford are strongly entrenched there, as are McDonalds and Coca Cola.

Obama’s 2009 meeting with Chinese President Hu, and his recent meeting with Vice President Jinping is hopefully a harbinger of deepening ties between the two countries, as well as mutual cooperation on trade and other issues.

However, historical perspective notwithstanding, the fact remains that Obama received a tepid response in his efforts to gain China’s cooperation in responding to the global economic showdown. This may be due to China’s recognition that America should focus on its own problems first, or it may be that China is simply not impressed with Obama and his administration.

It is clear that Obama is an excellent politician and a gifted speech maker, but it is equally clear that he is simply a novice when it comes to government management and making major decisions. He has no experience at all in administration and governing of anyone or anything. In other words, he comes across as a lightweight president, a figurehead, who has yet to prove himself as a leader. So, China has humored him, adopting a wait and see attitude before agreeing to anything. It remains to be seen whether Obama will have any real impact on the course of world affairs or whether he will be swept into the dustbin of history.

Copyright 11/20/09, updated 2/27/12, All Rights Reserved. Arnold G. Regardie.

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Writing Goals For Clear Writing

To become an accomplished writer is not an easy task. But to write clearly is a goal eminently worthy of achievement. There are many pitfalls to to be encountered on the road to clear writing. Here are a few.

Lack of experience in writing will show up first. The best approach to achieve clear writing is to just write. You just have to do it. There’s only so much reading you can do about writing before you actually start to write. It’s just like reading about hitting a golf ball or tennis ball – you just have to go out and do it to become really proficient. The more you write, the better you will become. You will also gain one very indispensable element – self confidence.

There are also goals to reach for in the process of overcoming impediments to improving your writing. The first is to write with a purpose and this in turn requires knowledge of your subject matter. This is key. If you don’t know what you’re writing about your readers will see it quickly. This kind of writing will damage your credibility immeasurably and cause your readers to regard your work product with justified skepticism. So to insure writing success, know your subject matter thoroughly. Become an expert on it. This will pay vast dividends for you.

It is also important to know your target audience – know who you’re writing for. It makes a big difference so far as your content is concerned if you’re writing for a sophisticated readership or for people who are less knowledgeable. If your writing is over the heads of your readers it will fall flat. If it is too elementary it will not be well received. So you must know who you’re writing for.

Use an everyday approach in your writing. Write like people talk, in a conversational tone. Avoid jargon or legalese where possible.

Emphasize important points by underlining, capitalizing, or otherwise highlighting them. This will help your readers to focus on what you’re really trying to say. Hit these points hard to draw attention to your message.

Be concise in your writing. Avoid long, rambling explanations. A good discipline is to start off each paragraph with a topic sentence. Fill that paragraph with subject matter that is relevant to that sentence. Good paragraphing can go a long way to holding a reader’s interest. Short paragraphs are often better than long, drawn out ones.

Learn to punctuate correctly. Good punctuation pays off by helping the reader to digest your writing and by showing the reader you really know something about writing.

Use the right word. Having a workable vocabulary is an indispensable tool to clear writing. It is worth extra time on your road to clear writing to work on vocabulary building. Look up and list all new words. Read extensively. Learn how experienced writers use their words – this can be an education in itself and well worth the while.

Finally, avoid spelling errors at all costs. Poor spelling will mark you as an amateur faster than anything else.
Read and reread your manuscript over and over to make sure all spelling is correct. In this process polish it up so that it flows smoothly. Also important is visual attractiveness. A long, dense paper with poor spacing and paragraphing will discourage a reader from reading it.

As you can see clear writing requires close attention to many aspects of writing. There is more, much more to be said but these points will help you immensely on the road to writing success.

All of this and more is covered in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com kindle books and in print.

Copyright 2014. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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