Tag Archives: entertainer

Finding the Right Word Is Critical to Correct Diction

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.

Searching for, finding, and using, the right word is a process I’ve learned to focus on as part of my ongoing writing experience.  Many years ago I was head of the legal defense team responsible for defending Doris Day’s lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, against legal malpractice charges.   I came away from that case impressed with Rosenthal’s writing skills, and in particular with his penchant to find and use the exact word he needed to precisely 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, soon to be available in print as well.

The lesson I’ve learned is not to settle for approximations of my 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 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 and a thesaurus.  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.”

Write every day to sharpen your writing skills and to gain confidence in your writing.  Also, read extensively to broaden your vocabulary and to learn how experienced writers put words and sentences together.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rightrs reserved.

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

Emphasize Letter Writing As Part Of Your Writing Repertoire

My blogs over the last several months have stressed different aspects of writing that need to be addressed to develop skills in clear writing.  If you are fortunate enough to have a job right now, improvement of your business letter writing skills will go a long way toward solidifying your position.  If you’re still looking for work, improving those skills will help you find employment.  Let me be more specific.

Many people don’t believe good letter writing is essential to their economic well being.  Whether it’s disinterest, lack of confidence, lack of training,  or a belief that letter writing is unimportant, time consuming,  unpleasant, or all of the above,  many folks just give letter writing a thumbs down, dismissing the entire subject, with predictable poor letter writing results.  This is not the right attitude.

This blogsite has previously stressed good letter writing as an integral part of your writing ability, but the subject is important enough to deserve repeat attention.  There are many instances where a properly worded letter can make a difference. For example, a properly worded letter of inquiry about a job may open a door of opportunity for you.  A thank you letter for an interview may make a difference to the interviewer because it shows you care.   Similarly, a simple thank you letter to a customer or client may pay huge dividends down the road in the form of repeat business.   Also, a cover letter to accompany a resume is an absolute must.  This letter should introduce you, explain why you are qualified for the position,  explain how your services will benefit the company, and refer to the “enclosed resume” to support your position.  Close the letter by requesting an interview and state when you will be available.  Even if you are not hired, this type of approach will mark you as an accomplished letter writer, which is always welcome in any business.  Merely sending out a resume without a cover letter will get you nowhere.

Letters should also be used to confirm all important conversations, meetings, dates, events, decisions, etc.  In the introduction to the second part of my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” I discuss the paper trail left by Doris Day’s ex-lawyer, the late Jerry Rosenthal, whom I once represented many years ago.   While the sea of paperwork created by this attorney was found to be excessive in the eyes of the judge who tried his case against Doris Day, nevertheless it’s a good idea to develop the habit of leaving a paper trail for future reference.  It will go a long way to avoid potential misunderstandings and is always good business practice.  Adoption of this practice will help make you a hero in the eyes of your employer.   Even if you’re not employed, it’s a good habit to follow for personal purposes.  Needless to say, all of the foregoing admonitions also apply to the use of emails.

Memo writing as a corollary to letter writing should not be overlooked.  Memo writing is good business practice, whether you are sending the memo to another individual in the company or just preparing it for your own future reference.  A memo can be a valuable source of information when you are trying to recall the details of a conference, meeting, or other event, or merely memorializing an important conversation. Memos should not be written in a sloppy or haphazard fashion, but in anticipation that someone other than you may be reading them later.   Once again, even if you’re not employed, memo writing for personal purposes is a good idea.

One last point, although not directly related to letter writing, deserves comment.  Recently  I  blogged about how businesses were complaining that grammar deficiencies were reaching epidemic proportions.  Today, (August 12), one of the announcers in the ball game I was watching complained that, “A complete game today don’t mean as much as it used to.”  I’m sure the announcer didn’t realize that using “don’t” in that sentence instead of “doesn’t” was grammatically incorrect.  The problem is that he would probably write that sentence the same way. And others who heard him will also probably speak and write that sentence the same way.  And so it goes.  The announcer who made the statement is a good announcer, but he’s setting a very poor example so far as use of good grammar in speaking and writing is concerned.

Maybe what we need is a National Clear Speaking and Writing Day to increase public awareness of the need to use good grammar.

Please visit my new website at www.agregardie.com, which features both my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” and my Civil War article, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Civil War Battles That Saved The Union.”

The next blog will be published on Friday, August 24, 2012.

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

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Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement

Preview of “The Art of Clear Writing,” Coming Friday, July 13, 2012

My new ebook, “The Art of Clear Writing” is in the polishing stage.  This Friday’s blog will contain a preview of part of  the ebook’s content.  It will reveal certain special writing tips of multi-talented entertainer Doris Day’s ex-lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, an acccomplished legal writer, which I learned,  that can help you write more clearly.  The preview is set to be published Friday, July 13, 2012.  Watch for it!

In the meantime here’s another writing tip to bear in mind:  Learning the art of clear writing will help you survive these tough economic times.

Arnold G. Regardie.


Filed under clear writing, good diction, Writing Improvement