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The Power of The Written Word Is Best Expressed Through Advocacy

I have previously addressed the subject of paragraphing in this blog (see last week for example) and in particular the use of advocacy in paragraphing. Advocacy in writing exemplifies the power of the written word. Mastery of paragraphing and the use of advocacy or persuasive writing will go a long way to further sharpen your writing skills. Find a subject that interests you, one that you are really passionate about, and write about it. Even if you don’t submit your writing to a third person, just writing about it should help you focus on words and phrases that reflect your feelings. Practice makes perfect. The more you write, the better your writing will become. Writing about a subject that really interests you will thus help you to become a better writer.

Here are a couple of examples of writing involving advocacy of a position.

For example, people who disparage class actions may not appreciate the good the do. Class actions are usually very beneficial to the public, even if the successful lawyer(s) does make a lot of money. Class actions are disfavored by many people because they believe that the lawyers get most of the money and individual class members get little, if any. The problem with that argument is that the lawyer who files the case takes a lot of risk. That lawyer may have to work for years without pay and must usually spend a substantial amount of money up front on investigative costs and expert witness fees. Failure to get a court order certifying the intended class as a lawful class is generally regarded as the “death knell” for the case. The lawyer may wind up with nothing if the class is not certified or the case is lost after trial.

On the other hand a successful class action may result in a court order and resulting judgment correcting questionable company practices such as putting a dangerous or unhealthy product on the market. Moreover, class actions are often settled. A settlement usually creates a class fund, which is approved by the court, used to compensate individual class members for damages suffered, and to pay attorneys fees. Under these circumstances, the lawyer’s pay is earned.

The most satisfying class action I filed was brought against two banks, Bank One, and First USA Bank, for using their customers’ credit card information for telemarketing purposes without the customers’ knowledge or consent. This case was certified for class action with a class of approximately four million California credit card holders and was ultimately settled in the six to seven million dollar range. Settlement proceeds, after attorneys fees and costs, were distributed to court approved charities because it was not practicable, in view of the small individual losses, to distribute any money to individual credit card holders.

Another example concerns politicians who lie publicly. Politicians who lie are particularly galling. How can any such politician be believed? It means a total loss of credibility. It’s bad enough if the candidate/incumbent is running for or holds a lower office such as city council. But it’s worse, much worse, if the politician is running for or holds a higher office, especially if that office is president. As a former trial lawyer, the use of a jury instruction, “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus,” (false as to one thing, false as to everything) can be a devastating weapon in trial. Thus, if the judge gives the instruction, you can argue to the jury that if a party or witness lied about one thing, he/she can be said to have lied about everything, a very effective argument.

So it should be with politicians. And there are politicians on the public scene who have lied, been proven to have lied, but are being given a whitewash by certain media outlets. You and I, as public jurors, have the right to disbelieve, justifiably, anything they say. When you hear someone in office or running for office make a public statement and you know that person to have lied in the past, you have an absolute right to disbelieve anything he/she says and to vote accordingly as the opportunity arises.

Further guidelines on paragraphing are contained 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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You Don’t Have To Memorize Grammar Rules To Write Clearly

In my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/Kindle Books and in print, I have urged readers to use word association as a means of learning good grammar, rather than to memorize rules. This approach has worked for me and it can work for you. Here is what I wrote:

“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).

Clear writing can be achieved even if you are unable to apply grammatical labels to the various parts of speech contained in a sentence. Even if you can’t diagram a sentence to break out the parts of speech or if you don’t know a pronoun from an adverb, you can still learn to write clearly.

Studying the logical relationship of words in a sentence as you read is most important in learning
the practical skills of word usage. In this way you need not concern yourself with the technical definition of, for example, weak or buried verbs, as long as your eye is practiced enough to pick them out of a sentence.

This level of writing ability can only be achieved through dedicated study and the continued practice of writing. The secret is practice, practice, practice and, also, read extensively. Read books, magazines, and newspapers to see how experienced writers put words and sentences together. This will help you develop the right “feel” for your writing.

I urge you to follow this approach.”

The use of good grammar is indispensable to clear writing. The benefits of clear writing have also been explained in my book, as follows:

“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.

It’s Never Too Late To Learn!

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.”

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

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Summary of Clear Writing Guidelines and Techniques

Many clear writing guidelines and techniques have been covered on this blog site over the past several months. They have been summarized in my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/ Kindle Books and in print. In order to facilitate reader review, I have quoted this portion of my book below.

“This book introduces fundamental guidelines and techniques necessary to develop clear writing skills. The guidelines and techniques discussed in this book may seem obvious to some readers and appear to be common sense to others, but they are important, time-tested approaches to developing a writing style that will lead to the creation of a final, clearly written document.

Writing is no different from any other undertaking in life: you have to start at the
beginning to master it. 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 will speak well of the author and the purpose it seeks to advance.

Develop and maintain a strong belief in your ability to write clearly. You can do it if you train yourself to do it, but it takes dedicated effort and continued practice.

The five fundamental guidelines discussed in this book should apply to any writing project, no
matter whether you are writing in English or any other language. Here is a summary:

First, develop confidence in your ability to write clearly by writing every day. Read extensively and study the writing style of experienced writers.

Second, learn to recognize clear writing. You will know it when you see it. A clearly written document should flow smoothly, be easy to read, and be visually attractive.

Third, get organized. Thoroughly plan your writing by organizing your thinking. Prepare a mental blueprint of what you’re going to write, then, prepare an outline that closely reflects your
blueprint. This is, perhaps, the most important step of all to improve the clarity of your writing.

Fourth, know your reading audience. If you don’t know who you are writing for, you may as well not write at all.

Fifth, know your subject matter. Become a maven on the content of your writing. You need expert knowledge to write with authority on any subject. If you try to fake it, your reader will see right through you. Take the time to research your subject matter thoroughly. The result will be high quality content, a vital ingredient for any successful writer.

Develop the many writing techniques discussed in this book by continuous practice. Dedicate yourself to writing every day. Build your vocabulary so you can find the right word when you need it. Be concise in your writing, use shorter sentences, carefully edit all writing before using it, and, most importantly, eliminate all spelling errors.

Also, read good books, magazines, and newspapers. Expose yourself to experienced writers whenever and wherever you can. Learn from their style. 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 grammar by word association rather than by definition. This is your homework, so to speak. The more thoroughly you apply yourself, the clearer your writing will be.

As a final thought, the creation of a paper trail, as discussed in the introduction to section two, will go a long way towards helping you achieve clear writing success. It’s good practice to memorialize all deadlines in writing as well as confirm all past and future events to prevent misunderstandings. Follow up important letters and emails with a letter and/ or memorandum to the file.

Keep your writing objectives in full view at all times. Clear writing is not easy to achieve. It’s hard
work, very hard work. But when you’re finished writing, dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, rewritten and revised the document for the umpteenth time until you can’t look at it anymore, then, like an artist, you can sit back and admire your work with the knowledge you’ve given it your best shot.

At this point, assuming you have been diligent in applying the guidelines and techniques discussed in this book, you should begin to notice a definite improvement in your writing. This improvement may not be noticeable overnight but will be over a period of time. Keep working on it!”

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

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Union Disaster at Chickamauga – Prelude To Its Death Grip on the Confederacy

With the approach of Memorial Day, it seems fitting to devote this week’s blog to one of the Civil War’s most notable, if lesser known battles, Chickamauga Creek.

This blog marks my third venture into writing about significant Civil War battles. The first one dealt with the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, two pivotal battles that saved the Union. The second one focused on the battle of Shiloh and the rise of U.S. Grant. Both are available as articles on amazon.com/Kindle Books. Here, I continue the thread addressed in the second article, which follows the career of U.S. Grant. In this blog, Grant, as a Major General, is named commander of all Union armies, save for a small area in the southwest, and immediately exercises his authority to relieve beleaguered General William Rosecrans following the disaster at Chickamauga Creek, south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The counterattack led by General George H. Thomas, who replaced Rosecrans, drove the Rebels back into northern Georgia and opened the gateway to the South for Union follow up and ultimate Confederate collapse.

The year 1863 saw a continuation of the fearful struggle of the Civil War. In early 1863, after the battle at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Confederate General Braxton Bragg withdrew his forces southward leaving Union General William Rosecrans (“Old Rosy”) in possession of that town. The spring of 1863 saw U.S. Grant driving down the Mississippi River as part of the renewal of his campaign against Vicksburg, Mississippi, some 200 miles upriver from New Orleans, Louisiana. In northern Virginia, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s attacks caused withdrawal of Union General Joseph Hooker’s forces north from Chancellorsville, Virginia and across the Rappahannock River. In July, a major Union victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the second attempt by Confederate General Robert E. Lee to invade the north was repulsed by Union forces led by General George Meade. However, there were events shaping up in western Tennessee as well which were also significant.
With the approach of Memorial Day, it seems fitting to devote this week’s blog to one of the Civil War’s most notable, if lesser known, battles, Chickamauga Creek.

President Abraham Lincoln wanted Rosecrans to get moving in Tennessee as well to keep pressure on the Confederates in as many places at one time as possible. In August, 1863, the skillful maneuvering of the Union Army of the Cumberland led by Rosecrans had feinted Confederate General Braxton Bragg into abandoning Chattanooga, a vital railroad junction, and to pull back his army into northern Georgia. This very successful result obtained with relatively few Union casualties caused Rosecrans to be hailed as a hero in his native Ohio. But it was soon followed by Rosecrans overextending his lines as he chased Bragg through mountain gaps below Chattanooga and presaged a Union disaster that was soon to follow at Chickamauga Creek (a Cherokee word meaning “River of Blood,” according to some historians), just south of Chattanooga.

But a heavily reinforced Bragg halted his retreat from Chattanooga and turned on the pursuing Federal army. Engaging Rosecrans along Chickamauga Creek, the collision of the two opposing armies resulted in a bloody two-day battle. When a poorly worded order caused one of Rosecrans’s divisions to pull out to support another unit, a huge, two mile gap was created in the Union line which was exploited by Confederate General James Longstreet as attacking Rebel troops poured through the gap and overran the Federals. Rosecrans ordered General Thomas to take over as Rosecrans was forced to fall back to Chattanooga. For his valiant efforts in shielding Rosecrans’s withdrawal, Thomas became known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.”

The devastating Union loss at Chickamauga Creek on September 19-20, 1863, could have spelled doom for Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland. But Confederate General Braxton Bragg, appalled at his own losses, hesitated in following up the Rebel triumph by allowing Rosecrans to retreat to Chattanooga and thereby preserve his army while Bragg occupied Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, mountains south of Chattanooga. Bragg had followed the retreating Rosecrans from Chickamauga and taken possession of Missionary Ridge overlooking Chattanooga and also occupied Lookout Mountain, west of Chattanooga, which Rosecrans had abandoned. Rosecrans also lost control of the Tennessee River and River Road to Bridgeport. Chickamauga became the worst Union loss in the Western Theater. These circumstances in Grant’s view justified Rosecrans’s replacement, effectively ending his military career.

Bragg’s mistakes ultimately led to a Union triumph after Grant, in October, 1863, ordered Rosecrans to be replaced by General Thomas. This order had come about after Grant had received a personally delivered notification from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton naming him as commander of the newly formed Military District of Mississippi. This district combined the departments of Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee under Grant’s command and included all of the territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River north of the area occupied by Banks forces in the southwest.

Combined Federal forces led by Thomas, Hooker, and General William Tecumseh Sherman, under Grant’s overall command, led their troops in attacks on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain causing the Rebels to retreat in chaos and ultimately led to the resignation of Bragg. The pell-mell pullback of Rebel troops from Missionary Ridge was particularly galling as the Rebel position had been supposedly impregnable.

The Union victory ultimately opened the way for Sherman’s campaign to Atlanta and subsequent epic march to the sea. Confederate armies would never mount another counterattack and would be reduced to parrying Union blows like an aging, worn out, and overmatched fighter. It marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

In Retrospect

As a long time resident of the Los Angeles vicinity there were many times that I drove south on the I-405 freeway past LAX airport. The first off ramp west past the airport is Rosecrans Blvd. With my continuing interest in the Civil War over the years and in particular my research for this blog, I came to realize and understand General Rosecrans’s contribution to the war effort for the Union cause.

In this era of electronic communications not everyone has the chance to read books on the Civil War. Hopefully this blog will help to fill the gap in knowledge that may be present in those who are interested in this area but do not have the time to read deeply about it.

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


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Echoes From The Past Revisited, The Panic of 1857 and the Continuing Saga of The Discovery of Gold In California

An interesting sidelight to gold’s saga revolves around the tragic loss in September, 1857, of the SS Central America, a sailing vessel bound for New York carrying passengers and three tons of gold ingots and newly minted gold coins from California. Lashed by a massive hurricane, the ship went down in 7,200 feet of water about 160 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C, at a time when U.S. bankers desperately needed the ship to reach its destination safely. The story was front-page news across the country and was accentuated by the Panic of 1857, which lasted for three years. Many people lost their jobs.

The sinking of the Central America was one of the worst at sea disasters in American history, claiming over 400
lives, and was front-page news all over the country. The loss of the approximately $1.5 million in gold the ship had carried, valued at roughly $18 per ounce, stunned the financial community and compounded the woes of the New York bankers, adding to the Panic.

The Panic was marked by a decline in wheat prices when the Crimean War ended in February, 1856. This drop was keenly felt by American farmers who had profited from the war. On a wider scale however, there had been a decade of land speculation and investment in railroad securities, aided by heavy borrowing. Banks had invested in businesses that were failing, causing people to panic. Investors were losing heavily in the stock market, railroads were unable to pay their debts, and businesses and factories failed idling hundreds of thousands of workers. People feared financial ruin and ran to the banks to withdraw their money. But the banks did not deal in paper money; they used gold and silver. But because of their failed invedstments, the banks could not gather all the gold their customers demanded. From August to September, 1857, a run on New York banks had required them to pay out more than twenty percent of their gold reserves and many banks failed.

However, the tragic loss of the Central America had a remarkable ending so far as the gold is concerned. In 1988, the ship and its treasure were located on the ocean floor by Tommy Thompson, an oceanographer from landlocked Ohio. Images aboard his vessel revealed a veritable king’s ransom in gold ingots and coins on the sea bottom where they had lain for over a century. Boosted by modern technological advances, the gold was recovered in 1989. The salvaged gold was estimated to be worth in the neighborhood of $1 billion, a record gold treasure haul.

The largest ingot recovered was an astonishing 933.94 ounces, nearly 80 pounds, with an 1857 value of $17,433.57. Nearly 7,500 coins were also recovered, many of them 1857-S Coronet double eagles. After being subject to a special conservation process, many coins were found to exhibit the brilliant proof like luster imparted to them the day they were struck at the San Francisco mint. The brilliance of the coins and gold bars was made possible by the oceanic conditions in which they were discovered, submerged under thousands of feet of ocean water at a temperature of 34 degrees Farenheit.

In my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available on amazon.com through Kindle Books and in print), to demonstrate the use of parenthesis and brackets, I point out that coin collecting can be interesting as well as a good investment. Here is what I wrote:
Coin collecting can be very interesting, historically speaking,
as well as a good investment. Coin grading is subjective (a matter of
opinion, which can change over time), so never buy any coin without
first inspecting it.

Carson City silver dollars, aka Morgan silver dollars [named for the designer, George T. Morgan], minted in Carson City, Nevada between 1878 and 1893, are still popular today because of their attractive design and because they are a throwback
to the days of the Old West.

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

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Lessons From the Past – Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, And The Declaration of Independence

My book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available on amazon.com at Kindle Books and in print) contains several historical vignettes to illustrate the flexibility of different kinds of paragraphing and the correct use of punctuation.   I’ve focused on Thomas Jefferson in this blog to illustrate two writing lessons:  one to show the use of  different kinds of punctuation, and the other to show how powerful concise writing can be.  Here’s the first:

“Engineering The Louisiana Purchase – A Look Back

It was the hallmark of President Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy that the Chief Executive should not have excessive power.  Yet, in 1803, when faced with the opportunity to purchase from France the vast, unexplored, Louisiana Territory that bordered on the western side of America, he cast that belief aside and signed the agreement to buy the territory for $15 million.

Jefferson’s visionary act removed a potential threat to America’s national security.    One option was to take no action at all, thus leaving Napoleon, builder of empires, in possession of the territory.

But Jefferson, taking the advice of American Commissioners abroad, decided on the purchase.  Paving the way for this historical event was the work of Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, in securing peace with France during the so-called “Quasi War,” which ended in 1800.

There was considerable doubt as to the constitutional power to make such a purchase. But when the identical issue came before the Supreme Court in 1828 in a  different case, Chief Justice John Marshall, speaking for the Court, ruled that “the Constitution confers absolutely on the government…, the powers of making war, and of making treaties; consequently, that government possesses the power of acquiring territory, either by conquest or by treaty.” (See:  John Marshall, Definer of a Nation,335, Jean Edward Smith, Henry Holt & Company, 1996, quoting from American Insurance Co. v. Canter, 1 Peters 511, (1828), a case involving the purchase of  Florida, but where the issue was the same as that involving the Louisiana Purchase.)”

As to the second lesson, writing with conciseness, my book devotes an entire chapter to avoiding faulty diction.  The choice of correct, clear and effective words is defined as diction.  One of the pitfalls of faulty diction is the use of excess language, or failure to be concise.

Holding your reader’s attention after getting the reader’s attention can be a challenge.  The best way to do this is to avoid the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to expressan idea. Tautology, the needless repetition of an idea in different words, is a fancy word for it, but it’s nothing more than sloppy writing.  Dense, wordy paragraphs and long, rambling, disorganized writing is certain to cause reader discontent and exasperation.  Such writing amounts to pomposity, which will turn your reader off.  Use familiar words.  Write in a conversational and welcoming tone, not stilted or artificial.

Be attentive to every word you write.  Much of the force of your presentation will spring from its conciseness.  Use words judiciously, economically and at a level the reader can understand.  Don’t make the reader grope for a meaning – it may be an unintended meaning.  Less is usually more.  Try to accomplish this result by “squeezing”  your writing until all needless words have been eliminated.  Question the need for everything that appears in your writing.  Due diligence on the issue of wordiness will put you squarely on the road to writing concisely.

Patriotism aside, there is no finer example of the power of  concise, effective writing than the following timeless words from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These memorable words, expressing the maximum in political sentiment in the minimum amount of space, the embodiment of powerful but utter simplicity yet profound in their implication, earned Jefferson a well deserved lasting place in American history.

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



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Follow These Techniques To Sharpen Your Writing

In today’s world of global communications, the written word is more important than ever before.  Clear writing is your key to success in any endeavor.  Use of clear writing guidelines and techniques will increase job opportunities for you as well as help to advance your career if you are already employed.

Following the tips listed below will put you on the road to writing improvement. As you use these tips, remember that writing is no different than any other undertaking in life – you have to start at the beginning to master it.  All art is created through the exercise of a craft such as painting or sculpting.  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 worthy of the effort.  Remember that a clearly written document will speak as well of the author as the purpose it seeks to advance.

Know your reader.  If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you may as well not write at all.

Know your subject matter.  Become a maven on the content of your writing.  You need expert knowledge to write with authority on any subject.  If you try to fake it, your reader will see right through you.  Take the time to research your subject matter thoroughly.  The result will be high quality content, a vital ingredient for any successful writer.

Write in a conversational tone.  This doesn’t mean engaging in meaningless chit-chat in a serious letter such as a job application but try to avoid overly stiff, formal writing.  A relaxed, conversational style should be what you are seeking.  This tone of writing will become apparent to you the more you write – and read.

Be concise.  When I was in Toastmasters years ago, we relied on a simple mantra to guide our thinking about speechmaking:  stand up, speak up, shut up.  The same idea applies to writing: say what you have to say in as few words as possible.  Avoid wordiness.

Be consistent.  Use grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc., in a consistent manner throughout your writing to avoid having the reader believe that you are a careless or sloppy writer.

Use less jargon, i.e., words that are particular to a specific trade or profession.  Use of words that you may know but are unfamiliar to the reader may cause the reader to see you as a pompous writer and to view your writing with suspicion.

Avoid vague or big words.  Be specific.  Write in plain, ordinary English to avoid reader frustration.  The word “cool” is often used in today’s conversation but it’s too vague and abstract to be useful in clear writing.  Use “end” instead of “terminate,” and “use” instead of “utilize.”  Sharpen your word selection by resorting to an unabridged dictionary.  Also, avoid an overly general use of words, which is the product of a lazy mind.  A good writer uses specifics to encourage visualization and the formation of word pictures in the reader’s mind.  Stronger writing will always use definite, specific language because it will be far easier for the reader to understand a concept when the reader’s mind can form images.

Use short sections.  The sight of long, dense, unbroken text is intimidating to a reader.  Break it up into shorter sections with a good topic sentence at the beginning of each section.  Your reader will be very appreciative.  In the same vein, keep your sentences shorter.

Prefer the active voice, i.e., express action directly.  In other words, to borrow a thought from the legendary songwriter 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.  For example, “You need a special permit to fish in that lake,” is better than “A special permit is needed to fish in that lake.”  More than any other writing technique, use of the active voice will improve the quality of your writing.

Following these techniques will help make your writing clear and persuasive.

Be positive in your approach to writing.  Don’t assume it’s time consuming or unimportant.

All of the writing tips appearing on this blog and on previous blogs on this site may be viewed under one cover in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” which is available at amazon.com in print or on Kindle.  The book and my two Civil War articles are featured on my website at http://www.agregardie.com.

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

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Poor Spelling Is Anathema To Clear Writing

Having all of the previous clear writing tips posted on this blog in mind, one clear writing technique not to be ignored is spelling.  No matter how hard you persevere  to develop your writing and no matter  good a writer you think you are or have become, if you don’t spell correctly readers will view you as an amateur, or worse.  Therefore this point must be made abolutely 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.

Poor spelling, like other aspects of poor writing, can be overcome.  Don’t give up on correcting your spelling because you don’t believe it matters or because you believe the problem is too big to fix.  Make it a habit to check your spelling in everything you write.  Your goal shold be to establish yourself as a good speller.

You may not become a good speller overnight but if you persist every day in fixing spelling errors you will find that, in time, a habit of correct spelling can be established.    Start by putting a question mark over every word you are unsure about, and verify the spelling before considering your writing as complete.

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. But don’t just write the misspelled word down mechanically –  try to understand why the word was misspelled.  Try to link the word to something that you know, something that will help you to remember it.  Understand its meaning.  Refer to the list periodically to refresh yourself on the word.  This process will help to increase your vocabulary as well as correct your spelling.  Emphasize the letters that cause the misspelling by writing them in capitals or underlining them.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization, a widely accepted practice.  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.  Be careful that you are not victimized  by having your eyes play tricks on you.  It is easy to visualize an arrangement of letters that is not there.

Another recommended method to correct poor spelling is to divide words  into syllables.  This will help in the visualization process.

Also, as I have suggested in regard to developing your vocabulary and a clear writing style, read extensively.  Make a note of all new words and practice spelling them.  Use them in your writing projects when the opportunity presents itself.

Watch for misleading resemblances between words.  Be on your guard and don’t misspell a word because it resembles another word in sound or appearance.  If you misspell one of two similar appearing words, focus your attention on one of the words and learn its spelling and its use thoroughly.  “Accept” (to take) and “except” (to exclude) are similar in sound but have vastly different meanings.  “Its” is a possessive pronoun while “it’s” is a contraction of it is.    “Affect” (to influence) and “effect” (to accomplish) are also easily confused.

Finally, there are many spelling rules, too many to repeat here.  But one of the most commonly used is to write “i” before “e” except after “c.”  So,  “believe” and “field”  are typical examples of the standard spelling while  “receive” and “ceiling” show the exception.  However, there are words such as “neighbor” and “weigh” where the rule doesn’t apply at all.

For those of you interested in the Civil War, check out my two articles on amazon.com, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved The Union,” and “Bloody Shiloh and the Rise of U.S. Grant.”

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

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Learn To Create A Paper Trail As Part of Your Clear Writing Skills; Help The Economy As Well

Unfortunately, widespread unemployment still plagues the nation.  The development of clear writing skills will help to put you in a position where you can increase your opportunities for job placement, earnings potential, and career advancement.  It will also, in the process, help to improve the economy by adding your own writing skills to the labor force, thereby increasing your chances of getting hired and potentially contributing to the reduction of unemployment.  You can start adding to your writing skills by learning to create a paper trail.

As an integral component of my daily routine while practicing law, I developed the habit of memorializing everything I did.  This is an extremely valuable practice to use, and I urge you to follow suit.  Not only will the creation of such a paper trail be of immeasurable benefit to you as a personal or business reminder of important dates and events, but this habit will force you to write more, and thus will allow you to accomplish a necessary step on the road to learning clear writing skills.  As this blog has repeatedly advised, you must write as much as possible to teach yourself the clear writing skills recommended here.

Agreements, formal or informal, deadlines, important events, issues for future follow up, errands, etc., all deserve to be put in writing, whether by follow-up letter or by memo to the file.  It’s good personal and business practice to leave a paper trail whenever possible, not only as a reminder of matters requiring your attention such as deadlines, but to create a written backup to avoid any possible misunderstandings as to who said what, when it was said, where it was said, etc.  I still follow these practices today.

There is no better place to begin creating a paper trail than by writing letters.  Expertise in letter writing, including emails, should be an indispensable part of your writing arsenal and it is important to leave a trail for any follow up.

There are manifold uses for letters.  One of the most important uses is to help you find employment.  If you are in the market for a job, it is essential to use a cover letter to accompany any resume which you send out.  The cover letter will serve to introduce you personally to the prospective interviewer.  But, the letter must be well written; poorly worded letters will get you nowhere and will wind up in the trash.  If a letter is worded improperly, i.e., poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., the reader may conclude on the basis of the letter alone, without even reading your resume, that you are not qualified for the position.  It will not make any sense for any interviewer to hire someone who does not write well because it will reflect badly on the company and may even cause it to lose business.  The letter should employ clear writing techniques, and be visually attractive.  It should specify the position you are seeking and state how you learned about it.  It should also explain why you are qualified for the position you are seeking and how your qualifications will benefit the company.  Close the letter by referencing your enclosed resume, requesting an interview, and stating when you will be available.

A properly worded letter of inquiry about a job opportunity may open a door of opportunity for you not otherwise available.  Clear writing skills are most important here.  Remember, you are selling yourself when you write.  Unless the letter establishes you as a credible writer, the reader may not consider your qualifications even if you are well qualified for the position.

Also, sending a thank you letter to acknowledge an interview may make a difference to the interviewer.  It is a good follow up to any interview and is an important part of the paper trail being discussed here.

Business letters should be clear, to th©e point, and correctly punctuated and formatted.  Properly written, visually attractive letters will reflect favorably on you individually as well as any company that employs you.  Written confirmation of all business transactions should be standard practice.

Leaving a paper trail for future reference is a good approach to the development of clear writing skills.  This habit will go a long way to avoid misunderstandings and is always a good business practice.

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

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Basic Paragraphing Techniques Are Needed For Clear Writing; They Even Fit Well In A Brownie Recipe

Some writers predict that there will be a resurgence in the economy.  If so, will you be ready?   You must be able to write clearly to take full advantage of any job opportunity that comes your way because of a resurgence, or otherwise.  Clear writing cannot be achieved without the ability to write effective paragraphs.

The development of an effective paragraph entails four basic rules.

First, unify the paragraph by developing a topic sentence which encompasses its central thought and introduces the paragraph.  A good topic sentence goes hand-in-glove with a descriptive paragraph heading.  Together, they are the key to locking the reader into your writing.  A descriptive topic sentence establishes a basic context for the reader before the details are provided and gives the reader the incentive to read on.

A topic sentence should include only one principal subject and express but one thought.  It should summarize the paragraph for the reader.  The topic sentence should embrace the controlling thought and let the rest of the paragraph expand this thought.  Work on tightening a rambling paragraph by developing a good topic sentence and then building the paragraph around it.

A busy reader will often skim your topic sentences to get an overall understanding of you writing.  Well written topic sentences will make the reader’s task that much easier.

For example, if you were writing about a tip that might help other golfers groove their golf swing, a good topic sentence (or, as here, sentences) might read as follows:

The sweetest swing you ever saw once belonged to Slammin’ Sammy Snead.      Today, many say it belongs to Freddie Couples.  Now, it can belong to you.   Here’s why.  [Next, describe your tip].

Second, arrange sentences to provide coherence in the paragraph.  The sequence of expression should be orderly and arranged by time or importance to make the progress of the thought easy to follow.  Strive for connection between sentences using repetition of key words, reference words, and parallel structure.

Third, use words of transition.  These words are usually found at the beginning of the succeeding paragraph to help introduce a new thought.  They serve to provide a stepping stone to ease the progression from one paragraph to another.  Words such as also, further, and in addition, are typically used for this purpose.  In this fashion, paragraphs may be linked together into the entire writing.

Fourth, keep paragraph length relatively short to reduce dense text.  Short paragraphs create more white space, are more inviting, and are thus easier to read and understand.  Paragraphs may vary in length from fifty to three hundred words, depending on content, but the shorter the better.  If necessary, break up a long paragraph into two shorter ones.

Even though content determines paragraph length, take steps to highlight paragraph content when necessary.  These include use of bullet points and dashes to make it easier to scan listed information.  Here’s an example:

Before:  Our company sells only naturally developed products.  They contain no preservatives, artificial colors, or fillers of any kind.  Use of them will increase mental alertness, stabilize metabolism, reduce fatigue, and enhance your body’s ability to stave off disease through its immune system.

After:  The following benefits are provided by our company’s products:

                                      –  No preservatives, artificial colors, or fillers of any kind;

                                      –  Increased mental alertness;

                                      –  Stabilized metabolism

                                        -Reduced fatigue; and

                                       – Enhances the body’s ability to stave off disease through its immune system.

Finally, to add a final thought to this blog, and to illustrate the flexibility of one form of paragraphing, i.e., descriptive paragraphing, here is a recipe for California “Gold Rush” brownies.

This recipe is a piece of cake (no pun intended) and makes great brownies.

Only four ingredients are required, as follows:   30 whole Honey Maid graham crackers, 2 – 14 ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon of milk, and 12 ounces of chocolate chips.

Break up the graham crackers and add them, a few at a time, to a food processor, grinding them until very fine.  Place the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl with the sweetened condensed milk and 1 tablespoon of regular milk.  Mix well and blend in the chocolate chips.  Add chopped nuts, if desired.

Place the mixture into a well buttered 9 by 12 inch baking pan, pressing down evenly.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 25 to 30 minutes until the sides start to separate from the pan.  These brownies are best when soft, so don’t overcook them as they will become too dry.

Let the brownies cool before cutting them into squares.  This recipe makes 24 to 30 squares, depending on how big they are cut and what pan size is used.  WARNING:  These brownies are habit forming and disappear fast.  You’ll have to taste them to believe it!

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