Category Archives: punctuation

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 amazon.com/Kindle 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.

Leave a comment

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.

2 Comments

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

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 amazon.com/Kindle books, and in print.

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

2 Comments

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

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 amazon.com/Kindle 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.

Leave a comment

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 amazon.com/Kindle Books, and in print.

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

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

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