Tag Archives: writing clearly

Now Is The Time To Learn To Write Clearly; The Economy Needs It

Last week’s blog addressed the perceived epidemic in grammar deficiencies that is plaguing American business today.  It pointed out that the foundation of the American economy is capitalism, i.e., free enterprise and entrepreneurship.  The blog further emphasized that individual initiative has been the driving force behind the economic growth in America.

The blog was intended as a call to action.  You can do your part to move the economy along by becoming a better writer.  The written word is more important now than ever before. In today’s world of global communications, you cannot hope to secure a place unless you can write clearly.  Prepare yourself to meet opportunity.  Begin by learning to write clearly.  It will pay huge dividends for you.

I practiced law in California for over 40 years before retiring.  I saw the writing failures of innumerable attorneys who, despite all their education, still made mistakes in writing.  I attended several writing lectures presented by Bryan Garner, an attorney and a very well respected name in the legal writing community.  His lectures are given nationally.  Each lecture was attended by both lawyers and judges, and each was a sell-out!  In a profession which devotes as much time to the written word as the legal profession does, it was surprising for me to see so many lawyers and judges that still strive to improve their writing skills.

In case the message was lost, let me repeat it now:  it’s never too late to learn!  If you have any doubts about your ability to write clearly, now is the time to get started to erase those doubts.

Begin by developing confidence in your writing.  Clear writing depends to a large extent on the power of belief, belief that comes from having confidence in your writing.  When you have that confidence, it will show – the reader can see it. To develop that confidence you must master what I would call the “inner game” of writing, the mental game.  Overcome the mental blocks to clear writing and you will have travelled a measureable distance down the road to becoming an accomplished writer.

The best way to gain confidence in your writing is to work at it.  Dedicate yourself to it.  Dedicated writing – writing with a purpose – not just writing by rote, will work wonders for your writing confidence.  A good golfer may spend hundreds, even thousands of hours working on his swing, his short game, his putting, all of which are integral parts of the game.  Practice your writing continuously.  Refine it as you go.  Study the style and technique of other writers.  The more you read and write, the more your writing will improve, and the more your confidence will grow.

As an integral part of the confidence-building process, you must also learn how to use words effectively.  This rule applies to speaking as well as writing.  It is the orderly and logical presentation of information that listeners can easily understand that makes a speaker interesting.  A good speaker always uses words effectively.  If you can train yourself to speak clearly, you can also learn to write clearly.  The discipline involved in clear thinking and the organization of materials for the presentation of a speech or talk will also apply to any writing project – mastering this discipline will make your writing stand out.  It will mark you as an accomplished writer.  The March Hare’s admonition to Alice, “…you should say what you mean,” applies perforce to writing.

Even more importantly, clear thinking not only fosters clear writing, it fosters creativity, and creativity in turn fosters job creation.  By organizing your mind so you think logically and in an orderly fashion you will also learn to think freely, to look “outside the box” for solutions to problems.  This kind of initiative, this kind of ability, is what the economy sorely needs.

Check out my new website at www.agregardie.com.   It features my new ebook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” now available at Amazon.com/Kindle books, and my article, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” also available on Kindle.

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

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Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement

The Mysterious, Elusive Element of Syntax

Can a sentence be dramatic?  It all depends on the syntax,  and syntax is the key to all effective writing.

What exactly is syntax?  How can it help you to write more clearly?  And, how does it differ, if at all, from diction?

Let me explain…

Finding the answer to these questions takes a little digging.  A good dictionary definition provides some help.  One definition provided by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Ed., p. 1269, is that syntax means “…a connected or orderly system:  harmonious arrangement of parts or elements….”  That helps a little bit.  The same source provides another definition: “…the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)…”  That helps a little more.

So, how does all of this relate to clear writing?  Let’s find out.

Good syntax makes good sense.  It deals with the orderly arrangement of words in a sentence.  Diction, dealing with the selection of the right words, is to be distinguished. So, it can be said that words carry the meaning, the power, but syntax controls their effect on the reader.

We now have a better understanding of what syntax means, but we still need to know how it helps us to write more clearly and how to acquire it.

Syntax involves adding rhythm and color to your writing.  These are an indispensable part of clear writing, and should be as much a part of your writing as your heartbeat is to you.  Thus, there should be a beat to your writing much as a poet includes a beat to his/her lines.  As noted in “The Way To Write,” John Fairfax and John Moat, St. Martin’s Press, 1981, p. 66,  the poet Lord Byron used the thunder of horsemen as the backdrop for his epic poem, The Destruction Of Sennacherib:

“The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”

The same little booklet, at p. 58, provides another example of what the authors believe is “spectacular” syntax in the following quote from an unidentified Hemingway novel:

“Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.”

The point to be made in all of this comes down to using the story teller as an example.  Everyone likes a good story.  Bob Sands, a well known copyrighter who writes for AWAI (American Writers And Artists, Inc.), emphasizes the point that good copywriting is made even better by a good story.  The order of words in the telling of the story is what provides the emphasis, the drama.  The drama makes the story.  An accomplished writer has a feel for the dramatic and can arrange his words to provide the best impact.

An inexperienced writer may struggle to write a sentence that provides the best effect on the reader.  But, once more experience is obtained, a writer will get a feel for the best order of the words.  This will result in clear meaning, logical presentation of information, and maximum effect on the reader.

A final example, what Messrs. Fairfax and Moat characterize as “superb” syntax, is provided by no less than Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,

Who struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more:  it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing…” (Id. p. 59).

A piece of writing that has no variety of sound is colorless and dull, like a landscape on a gloomy day.  But  colorful writing, on the other hand, is like a landscape you will find on a bright, sunny,  Spring day.

A gift for words may carry with it a gift for syntax.  The two may be the same.  But, as with other aspects of writing, the gift for syntax does not come gift-wrapped with a ribbon – it must be nurtured and developed, by guidance and constant practice.  By developing the ear, an accomplished writer has learned how to match the sound of his writing to the mood he would create.

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

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Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement