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The Importance of Clear Writing

My book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/kindle books and in print, contains many guidelines and techniques on clear writing. Here is an excerpt:

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.

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.

Clear writing is easy to say, but what exactly does it mean? The term defies definition, but you know it when you see it. Clear writing means using words effectively. It is evidenced by the orderly and logical presentation of information using everyday language that readers can easily understand. It is well organized, concise and follows other good writing practices as discussed in this book.

A clearly written document should be easy to read and visually attractive so it looks like it’s meant to be read. One practical way of attaining clearness is by fully thinking out what you want to say. Sloppy thinking produces sloppy writing. So, cultivate a habit of accuracy in thinking. Select your words carefully, avoid excess language, and use words economically. This will go a long way toward achieving clarity.

Write as you talk in a natural, conversational tone, one on one, in a way that is not stilted or artificial. More than one writing authority has suggested that it makes good sense to write with a specific person in mind, giving that person the information you would want to receive in return.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to ask the following question at each stage of the writing process: can my thoughts be presented any more clearly?

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).

Increase your own value to others by learning to write clearly. It will pay huge dividends for you.

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

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

Develop Confidence In Your Writing

The all important beginning point for clear writing is to develop confidence in it. This is explained in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/Kindle Books and in print. Here is what I have written:

“I’m not a good writer!” is an all too often heard personal lament. For those of you who believe they fit into that category, i.e., those who don’t believe they are good writers but want to be, this book can help. It provides an organized guide to clear writing fundamentals and sets forth down-to-earth, well-established writing guidelines and techniques that have worked for others, not hard and fast rules that must be committed to memory and followed at all costs.

As mentioned in the introduction, the underlying proposition of this book is that clear writing is an art form – it can be learned. Anybody can write well – but you need the desire and dedication to do it. If you’re willing to put in the time and learn the skills, the satisfaction and rewards will come. These guidelines and techniques are capable of being learned through application and practice, and should result in a marked improvement in your writing. Even if writing is not your strong suit,
you can still learn and significantly improve your writing ability by following the suggestions in this book.

As a practicing trial attorney, dealing with the exacting requirements of legal writing over the years enabled me to hone my writing ability to the point where I became an effective writer. So, unless you are involved in circumstances that require you to write continuously, you will have to dedicate
yourself to the task of writing on a virtual daily basis to achieve noticeable results.

Following the guidelines and techniques discussed in this book is therefore only a beginning, a light showing you the right direction. First, you must make up your mind that you’re going to write well. Then you must put in the time and make the effort to learn. Follow the guidelines and techniques repeatedly until skill is achieved. A now and then approach will have little effect. Perseverance and tenacity are required, particularly if writing is not your strong suit. This effort should remain a continuous and ongoing task. Poet and playwright Robert Browning summed it up nicely: “Art’s long, though time is short.” (See: The Ring and the Book [1868-1869], IX, Juris Doctor Johnannes-Baptista Bottinius, as shown in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Fourteenth Ed., 1968, Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited, note p. 88).

Also bear in mind that writing, any writing, is a form of salesmanship, i.e., you are selling yourself. It is a basic sales truism that people will buy from you if they trust you. That truism applies to writing as well. Whatever your purpose in writing may be, whether you’re applying for a job, selling a product or service, writing personal or business letters, writing a company manual, or even preparing something as basic as an interoffice memo, the reader must trust you for your writing to be successful. Achieving this trust will depend on the respect and credibility emanating from your writing. If the reader believes you to be a credible writer and trusts you, you’ve gone a long way toward accomplishing your primary writing goal of selling the reader on whatever you’re writing about. Attracting that trust can be achieved only if you dedicate yourself to improving your writing skills.

Where do you start? Begin with a positive attitude toward what you’re doing, whether writing or speaking. John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and a prominent lawyer by trade, successfully argued to the jury during the Boston Massacre trial of 1770 that “facts are stubborn things” and cannot be changed no matter how strong are your passions. Adams strongly believed in the rule of law and that the British soldiers he defended (successfully, it should be added), who were accused of murder when they fired their muskets into an angry mob, were innocent.

Clear writing thus 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 obtain confidence you must master what can best be described as the “inner game” of writing, overcoming mental blocks to clear writing. As with other challenges in life, you must develop the right mental attitude. In other words, you can’t write clearly if you are nagged by anxiety and self doubt about your writing. Persistence and determination to write well are omnipotent.”

Here’s the bottom line: whether playing tennis, or golf, you must develop confidence in your ability. The same is true with writing. The best way to gain confidence in your writing ability is by working at it. 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, which should build up your confidence.

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

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