Tag Archives: writing

Poor Spelling Is Anathema To Clear Writing – And The Economy

Mastering the subject of spelling may well be the single most difficult task confronting you on the road to clear writing.  But, correct spelling is, without doubt, a goal worthy of accomplishment.

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.

Revising and editing any writing as part of the polishing process is a definite must. This is also a good time to double check for spelling errors.  (I always proofread for spelling errors as I am writing.)  You must take the time to check the spelling of any word that looks suspicious to you. It’s a good idea to put a question mark over each word you have doubts about while you are writing, then go back and check the spelling on each word you marked.  Resorting to a dictionary for new or difficult words should be the first and ongoing choice.

You can become a good speller if you go about it in the right way, but don’t expect overnight miracles.  Remember the basic rules, such as i before e, except after c.  There are exceptions to even that rule, however, such as leisure, seizure, financier, species, neither, either, height, and weird.

Many writers shortcut the correct spelling of words either because they don’t know their 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.

Spelling by ear and by careful pronunciation can also help improve your spelling.  Exaggeratedly careful pronunciation and spelling the words in syllables may also help.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization.   Make full use of your eye in learning to spell.  Train your eye to observe printed words accurately.  This approach is closely akin to learning good grammar by word association, as explained in my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/kindlebooks.   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.

A related trouble spot is the use of the wrong word in place of the correct word.  Thus, except (to exclude)and accept (to take) are often confused, as are affect (to influence) and effect (to accomplish),and allusion (a reference) and illusion (a deceiving appearance).   When a confusing resemblance between two words causes you to misspell one of the words or to erroneously use one instead of the other, a good remedy is to focus your attention on one of the words, learn its spelling and correct use thoroughly.  Use any memory device for this purpose, as long as it works.

It is important to bear in mind that poor spelling may well derail your efforts to find a job, or advance your career.   It can also mean lost sales for your company.   This bodes ill not only for you or your business but for the economy as well.  The ability to spell accurately is but another step on the road  to achieve clarity in communications, which is a vital ingredient not just for your success but for the economic success of the country.  Rebuilding the country’s infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) often mentioned as a means of  creating more jobs, also applies to rebuilding the pathways of communication between people.

Don’t forget to check out my website at www.agregardie.com.

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

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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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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.

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Add Sound and Color To Your Writing

Last week’s post dealing with the subject of syntax touched on the subject of sound and color in your writing.   This subject, closely intertwined with syntax, deserves further exploration.

Clear writing requires a writer to have a command of words and use of proper syntax. Both are essential to become an accomplished writer.  Syntax was effectively defined last week as the logical, orderly sequence of words to have maximum effect on the reader.

Syntax to me is indistinguishable from sound and color.  I can’t conceive of a situation where a writer can have good syntax and not have sound and color. For this reason sound and color have no such ready definition as syntax does.  They depend on the writer developing a feel, an ear, for his writing.  For most writers this only comes with time and experience.  So, how do you know when you have it?

The ability to develop sound and color in your writing really depends on how well you apply yourself to the task of writing.  It has been a basic tenet of this entire blog site that clear writing is an art form and can be attained with constant, regular practice of your writing.  It is only through the dint of this undertaking that you will come to recognize your own voice as a writer.

What exactly is sound and color?  It’s hard to put it in your writing unless you know what it is.  The rhythm of your writing will reflect its sound and color.  Listen to your writing as you write, then revise it for effective rhythm.  This means choosing words that fit in well with surrounding words.  Jerky or monotonous sentences lack sound and color.

For example, the following sentence is repetitious and somewhat monotonous:

He was an exceedingly orderly company commander.  When promoted, he became an efficient regimental commander.

Improved version:

As a company commander he did things by the book; as a regimental commander, his efficiency was unsurpassed.

In the following example, sentence fluency has been hampered by excessive modification:

The man in the car opened the door quickly and went hurriedly into the restaurant.

Improved version:

The driver quickly abandoned the car and vanished into the restaurant.

How do you know when your writing has sound and color?  There are two ways:  The first is that you will know it because you will feel it in your writing;  the second, a bit more objective, is that a reader will remain fixed on what you have written and then compliment you on it.

The late William Manchester was a superb writer, the pages of his writing full of sound and color.  His biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion – Visions of Glory: 1874-1952, Dell Publishing, 1983, speaks for itself.  The following passage, (p.7), is illustrative:

“Men who think of themselves as indispensable are almost always wrong, but Winston Churchill was surely that then.  He was like the lion in Revelation, ‘the first beast,’ with ‘six wings about him’ and ‘full of eyes within.’  In an uncharacteristically modest moment on his eightieth birthday he said:  ‘It was the nation and the race dwelling all around the globe that had the lion’s heart; I had the luck to be called upon to give the lion’s roar.’  It wasn’t that simple.  The spirit, if indeed within them, lay dormant until he became prime minister and they, kindled by his soaring prose, came to see themselves as he saw them and emerged a people transformed, the admiration of free men everywhere.”

Adding sound and color to your writing doesn’t apply to every writing project.  It may not fit at all into, say, a simple job application.  But the experience of trying to add sound and color to your writing will help you to acquire an ear for your writing, that sense of knowing the power of your words.  It will help you to write more efficiently and more clearly.

As has been oft-mentioned on this blog site, clear writing is not easy.  But the point bears emphasis.   It  takes work, lots of work.   That’s the surest way, however, to improve the clarity of your writing.  I’m reminded of books I’ve read about trying to hit a golf ball or a tennis ball.  There’s only so much reading you can do before you actually go out and swing a club or a racket.  So it is with writing.  Reading the many blogs posted on this site over the last few months will provide you with reliable guidelines and techniques.  Mastery of them will go a long way to improve the clarity of your writing, but you still have to write to achieve maximum effect.

Watch for my ebook, “The Art of Clear Writing”, coming soon on Kindle.  This ebook will make available, under one cover, all of the writing guidelines and techniques previously posted on this site.  It is now in the final polishing stages and will be available soon.  Also, my article “Antietam and Gettysburg , Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved The Union,” is now available on Kindle.

The next blog will be posted on Friday, July 6, 2012.

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

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A Summary Of Clear Writing Guidelines and Techniques

This is a good time to summarize what has been published here previously on clear writing.

The ability to write clearly is essential to success in today’s world, a world of global communications.  The power of the written word is more important today than ever before.  If you are not a “good writer,” you can and should dedicate yourself to the task of becoming one.  Using the guidelines and techniques explained in the posts to this blogsite will go a long way in developing a clear writing style for you.

Clear writing is an art form.  That means it can be learned.  But, like anything else in life, you must work at it to become accomplished. Develop confidence in your ability to write clearly by practicing your writing continuously.  Also, read extensively and study experienced writers and their styles.  Following these suggestions will be time well spent.

Organize your thinking before you write anything by preparing an outline of what you are going to write.  Prepare the outline carefully and in detail.  It is your blueprint, your roadmap to a clearly  written document.

Focus on your reader and write to fulfill the reader’s needs and expectations.  Write in a conversational tone.  Don’t use words the reader will neither recognize nor understand.

Know your subject matter thoroughly.  High quality content will help to stamp you as an accomplished writer.

It is not necessary to memorize grammar rules to write clearly.  Memorization of rules is only necessary to pass examinations.  Good grammar can be learned by word association, which results from training your eye to recognize it.  This is a more reliable way to learn grammar than by memorizing rules and then trying to apply them to a given situation.

Clear writing means to create a document that is inviting in appearance, well organized, and understandable when read.

To achieve the foregoing objective, your writing should be as clear, concise, and understandable as you can make it.  Use short sentences whenever possible.  Write in everyday language using concrete words and the active voice.   Paragraph headings and subheadings should be descriptive.  Spell out what any acronym stands for at least once.  Avoid legalisms such as whereas and herein and highly technical terms.

Organize your writing to avoid long, dense paragraphs that will be discouraging to read.  Use of bullet points, graphs, and tables is often helpful in presenting detailed information.  The old cliche,  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is still true when it comes to writing clearly.

Words are a writers tools of the trade.  You cannot hope to write clearly without having a reliable vocabulary.  Work on increasing your vocabulary by writing down each new word and its meaning, reading extensively, and frequently resorting to a dictionary.  Use new words in your writing when appropriate.

Learn to use punctuation marks appropriately in your writing.  Properly used marks will help immeasurably in getting your message across.

Revise all writing thoroughly.  Don’t rely on the first draft.  Work on using the right words to express yourself clearly.  It is extremely important to look for spelling errors.  Nothing will turn a reader off faster than poor spelling.  This point cannot be emphasized enough.

Make sure your final document looks like its meant to be read.  A sloppy appearance can be a turn off.

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

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Add Expertise In Letter Writing To Your Writing Arsenal.

Expertise in letter writing should be an indispensable part of your writing arsenal.

Letter uses are manifold. All job seekers should use a cover letter to accompany any resume which is sent out. The cover letter should introduce you personally to the prospective interviewer.  The letter should specify the position you are seeking and state how you learned about it.  It should explain why you are qualified for the position and how your qualifications will benefit the company.  Close by suggesting an interview and state when you will be available.

A properly worded letter of inquiry about a job opportunity may open a door of opportunity for you.  Also, sending a thank you letter to acknowledge an interview may make a difference to the interviewer.

Business letters should be clear, to the point, and correctly punctuated and formatted. Properly written, attractive letters will reflect favorably on you individually as well as any company you are working for.

Confirm all important meetings, events, telephone conversations, and decisions by letter. It’s a good idea to leave a paper trail for future reference; it will go a long way to avoid misunderstandings and is always a good business practice.

Important points to remember about writing a letter.  There are several guidelines to keep in mind when writing a letter,  as follows:

1.  The heading of the letter should be centered and provide the writer’s full name, address, and telephone number.  Adding an email address and cell phone number is discretionary.  But you want to make sure the addressee knows how to get back to you easily.

2.    The date of the letter should appear directly under the heading.

3.  The addressee’s address inside the letter should be the same as appears on the mailing envelope.  Do not omit street or avenue.

4.   Use a reference line following the address to reference an order number, invoice number, a previous letter, or any other convenient point of reference.   The reference should be preceded by “RE:”

5.   The greeting (or salutation, as it is sometimes called), should be separated by two spaces from the inside address or the reference line, if one is used.  The inside address and the greeting should begin at the left margin.  The greeting should be followed by a colon for business letters and a comma for personal letters.

Typical greetings include the following:

Dear Sir (or Madam):

Dear Mr. Jones:

Dear Mrs. Smith:

Dear IRS: (or other agency if known)

Avoid “To Whom It May Concern” if at all possible.

6.  Begin the body of the letter one line below the greeting.  Don’t use shorthand or abbreviated writing.  Always write with direct, full sentences.  Avoid flowery or hackneyed language such as ” I beg to advise,” and all slang expressions.

Wrong: Your kind favor of (date) has been received and we hasten to inform you the order has been shipped immediately following.

Better:  We have received your order dated (date).  The order was filled on (date) and shipped on (date).

7.  Get right to the point.  If you are applying for a job, begin by stating “I am applying for,” and not “I would apply for” or “I wish to apply for.”

8.  As pointed out previously, organization is essential to clear writing.  This is true in letter writing as well.  Group your thoughts logically.  If you are applying for a job, an appropriate grouping might consist of personal qualifications, followed by experience and then references.

9.  Finish the letter with a simple sentence such as:

I hope to hear from you soon,

I trust this answers your letter, or

I trust this answers any questions regarding my background, education, or experience, for this position.

Please advise if further information is required.

Avoid any finish that begins with a participle such as “Thanking you for your consideration of this request.”  It is better to say simply, “Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.””

10.  The close should be at the left margin, followed by a comma.  Appropriate closings include the following:

Sincerely yours,

Sincerely,

Yours truly,

Respectfully,

Cordially,

11.    Sign your name clearly and type it out directly underneath the signature using all capital letters or initial capitals.  It is not necessary to provide a title or degree before or after the signature.  A married woman may add her married name in parenthesis following her typed name if she was using her maiden name previously.  Do not follow the signature with any punctuation.

12.  If you are sending a copy of the letter to someone else, add “cc: [name of additional addressee]” two spaces below your typed name.  Place a check mark by the “cc” on the copy being sent to designate that the addressee is getting that copy.  Sending a cover letter with the copy is discretionary, depending on the circumstances.

13.  If you are enclosing any document with the letter add “Encl.” following your typed name or any “cc.”

14.  Miscellaneous matters.  For business correspondence, only use one side of the paper; fold the letter twice horizontally in equal sections.  Don’t staple or clip pages together.

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

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Antietam – A Battle That Changed The Course Of The Civil War.

[This blog is posted in commemoration of Memorial Day.  It also illustrates the flexibility of narrative paragraphing].

It is still remembered as the bloodiest day in American history, a deadly encounter which took place back on September 17, 1862, in a small Maryland town by the name of Sharpsburg, about seventy miles northwest of Washington D.C. virtually in the shadow of the nation’s capital.  The battle has gone down in history as simply “Antietam“, named for the nearby creek that meandered southerly from its source in Pennsylvania.

The strategic approach to Antietam began on September 4, 1862, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion – there is no other term for it, strange as it may sound – of Maryland.  Poised to threaten Washington, D.C., and buoyed by the Union’s rout at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on August 30, Lee hoped to continue recent Confederate victories, bring border state Maryland into the Confederacy, and secure support and recognition for the Rebel cause from France and England.

Union forces were heavily demoralized following their humiliating defeat at Bull Run.  Lincoln sacked General John Pope, in command of Union forces there, fearing an army mutiny if Pope was retained.  He merged Pope’s Army of Virginia with General George McClelland’s and reluctantly put McClellan in charge of the revamped and reorganized Union army, designating the combined force as the Army of the Potomac.

There were strong objections raised by several cabinet members to McClellan’s selection, who wanted him court-martialed or dismissed because of his failure to send troops to help Pope, his detested rival, at Bull Run.  After Ambrose Burnside declined Lincoln’s offer to take over the Army, there seemed to be no other alternative to McClellan.  But those cabinet members voicing serious concerns to McClellan felt vindicated by his subsequent failure to come to the rescue of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which surrendered to Stone Wall Jackson on September 15, 1862,  allowing Jackson’s forces to reinforce Lee just before Antietam.

Earlier, on September 13, in a field near Frederick, Maryland, two Union soldiers stumbled upon a military bonanza, a copy of Lee’s order “directing the movement of the army from Fredericktown [sic],” apparently carelessly dropped by a Rebel officer.  McClellan now had at his disposal information giving him the opportunity of a commander’s lifetime, with advance knowledge of the disposition of Lee’s forces.  The army was scattered, with many miles separating each from the other part, the two largest units some twenty five miles apart with the Potomac River in between.  McClellan had only to push through the South Mountain passes east of Antietam Creek, annihilate each of these parts before they could unite, to seal the fate of the Confederate army.

But Lee, being alerted to the loss of the order, dispatched troops to block the passes through South Mountain, giving him extra time to pull the remainder of his forces together.   Moving cautiously, still fearful that Lee’s forces greatly outnumbered him (in fact, he outnumbered Lee by approximately two to one), McClellan waited until daybreak on September 14, an 18 hour delay, in getting his troops on the move. This gave Lee the time he needed concentrate the disparate units of his army.

Following a bruising battle at South Mountain on September 14, Lee withdrew his forces overnight to Sharpsburg and contemplated withdrawing across the Potomac.  The losses he had sustained in recent fighting had made his smaller army more vulnerable than ever before to the advancing might of the Union forces.  However, news that Harper’s Ferry had been secured by Stonewall Jackson and that help was on the way caused him to reconsider and set up defensive positions west of Antietam Creek  in anticipation of Federals, approaching from the east side later that day.

Attacking at dawn from the North on the bloodiest day, September 17, 1862, Union forces led by Major General “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s divisions, three abreast, stormed southward along the Hagerstown Turnpike and Smoketown Road, clashing with Rebels and driving them through sites whose names have become famous, synonymous with the bloody encounters that occurred in them – Dunkard Church, West Woods, Bloody Lane, and perhaps the deadliest killing field of them all, The Cornfield, a 40-acre plot bordered by a stand of woods on the east side. Withering rifle fire accompanied by canister shot and thunderous artillery volleys carved out staggering losses from the lines on both sides.  Aided in no small part by recent advances in weapons and ammunition technology, including the rifling of rifle barrels, which increased accuracy up to 500 yards, the carnage was appalling, with men on both sides being cut down in droves by the murderous fire.

Antietam is remembered today for the deadly toll taken in American lives. Total casualties for the day from both Union and Confederate forces exceeded 23,000, with over 6,000 killed and mortally wounded, a total of more dead American soldiers then were killed in the entire American Revolution, more than those dying in combat in all the wars fought by the United States of the nineteenth century combined,  four times the number  killed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and over twice the number of fatalities suffered by the country at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001!

Both sides had been staggered by their losses, but McClelland still had fresh troops and outnumbered Lee nearly two to one, even after Lee had been reinforced by Stonewall Jackson’s forces arriving from Harper’s Ferry. Lee had lost countless veteran, seasoned troops, which he could ill afford to lose in view of what was now the prospect of a long, continuing war, his plans for an early ending by invasion having been turned back.  If McClellan had followed through, as Lincoln wanted, and renewed battle the next day after Antietam, many believe that he could have shattered Lee’s army and thereby shortened the war considerably.  McClellan, however, wired Lincoln that victory was complete, and believed to his dying day that Antietam was his finest hour because he had saved the Union.

Coming at a time when the survival of the United States was open to question, Antietam was a decisive battle that changed the course of the Civil War.  Though it was a limited Union victory strategically, the consequences of Antietam in other respects were enormous. It restored morale in the North and allowed the Republican Party to remain in control of Congress. It shattered hopes of British recognition of the Confederacy.  Finally, it  provided Lincoln with the opportunity he had been seeking to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in areas still in rebellion against the Union as of January 1, 1863, “shall be… forever free.”

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

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