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Invitation P5: general enquiry about approach (6/3/13)

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ON BECOMING A BETTER WRITER THROUGH READING & PRACTICE

Danielle H. Yes to all of this. Anytime I talk business with someone this comes up. It is so important. Writing is 10% creation and 90% editing. One thing I would like to add about reading: it is not just the reading that helps. If you really want to get something out of your reading, especially if you are reading to be a better writer, you have to read actively. Really look at how the author has structured the piece, down to word choice and punctuation. Take note of structures that you find interesting or striking, and take a moment to consider why it is a successful choice in the context of what you are reading. If it is something that doesn't work, consider why and how it could have been done better. Even doing this in your leisure reading is helpful. It feels like work at first, but it will quickly become a habit that will last your lifetime. I always read with a pencil in my hand.


Maureen A. I am sure that excel in my workplace because of the high quality of my writing. I work as a software developer and find it sad that the writing skills of the general public are so very poor. Poorly written requirements are very expensive! It is immensely worthwhile to carefully organize thoughts and construct sentences that accurately state what we really mean. It does take practice. Thanks for the helpful tips!


Randy W. Nice article, thanks for posting. I work with writers everyday and see many issues to correct and improve. I also realize that we are at the cusp of an evolutionary leap in language. No different than when Herr Gutenberg looked at the wine press and said I can make something with this. We see more poor writing because more people are writing. Twenty or so years ago, few people wrote much more than a quick note or a grocery list. It was purpose driven. Today kids are writing to friends and family everyday more than my generation ever did. They are shifting the language and our grammar rules(and police) will need to adjust as well. My points here do not dismiss Dave's argument that clarity is the better part of communication. I'll take a well-written article following the guidelines of Strunk and White over any other flowery, overly expressed prose anyday.1d



Kirk H.
I disagree. We are merely witnessing the simple fact that grammar and spelling are diminishing in value in the marketplace. The world has globalized merging a multitude of languages and semantics. Technology has evolved to correct such simple mistakes. This alone highlights the basic nature of the problem. If a computer can solve a problem this easily then it wasn’t that important. The younger generation has grown up with auto-correction. Nowadays businesses move much faster, the days of pretentious emails are over. It is the message that matters; new ideas travel too fast to be re-worded. I work with a diverse group of engineers that can barely complete a sentence yet solve amazing problems. Most of the time when we mention grammar we are thinking about the English language. How good are you at being grammatically correct in someone else’s native language? The value I put on grammar is next to nothing when it comes time to create a product with a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If I were concerned with spelling and grammar I would hire someone to glance over it before I send it out (like all executives do). Or you can use the more cost effective option and just let MS Word do it for free.

Roy F. I agree with the statements here. If we can't understand language and how to use it most effectively, it doesn't matter how intelligent we are in any field of profession if we cannot communicate. Knowing how to read and why (and I don't mean the ability) is often overlooked. A UK army educator once said to a now-famous author: 'Remember the feeling of closing your first book, because you are going to find out that reading gives you knowledge, which gives you the power to make your own decisions and to do what you want to do.' If this statement is given to all primary school children learning to read, I think motivation to read more from a young age would improve. Thus, the ability to write effectively would be remarkably different to current trends

Dinesh S. Thanks Dave, well written and to the points. I also read through the comments made by various readers. My suggestion is to add 6th point - Editing at later stage. I have my experience as project manager/Team Leader at work. At many occasions, we happen to write some exciting and very critical letter or report that can be factual but when you come next day and read again, you realise you have become over reactive. Try to find better way in a very friendly environment to express the reality. We should be careful -our posted article, letter or report should not follow us negatively in future.

Amber W. This article reminds me of my Research Methods class! Our class used a lot of Stephen King's quotes about reading and writing. This article reminds me of one of his quotes "Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can't expect to become a good writer." -Stephen King.

Eliminate filler words
Kristina M. Of all the things packed into my head during both my undergraduate and graduate college experiences, one stands out above the rest. I had a professor tell me to get rid of the filler words. To this day, I edit all of my writing to eliminate filler words. I find (that) I use the word 'that' far too often. I have to edit it out of everything I write. I'm sure you have a filler word (that) you use too often as well. Bottom line, if the word does not add to the meaning of your sentence, take it out!

WORDS THAT MAKE YOU SOUND STUPID

by Mariam Jehangir

Most of us have been criticized by friends (playfully) and English teachers (earnestly) for slipping up and using words incorrectly in a sentence, and while many of us like to think we have the basic grammar principles down, we still misuse some common words in our everyday conversations.

Dictionary.com compiled a short list of these words that we carelessly slip into sentences to give ourselves more time to think and, in doing so, ruin the sentence. These so-called “crutch words” detract from your main message and don’t add useful meaning to your statement.

So what are some commonly used crutch words?

Actually – The literal meaning of this word signifies that something is present or exists in reality, but it is often used incorrectly to add an extra punch to the sentence.

Basically – This word should be used to signify a simple or fundamental point, instead people often use it incorrectly in a statement to add weight and instill a sense of finality.

Honestly – Often times people use this word to add either authority or amazement to their statements. Its correct usage adds meaningful honesty to what the speaker is saying.

Like – Okay, we’re admittedly guilty of this one.  We just can’t seem to shake this filler word, which was adapted into our vernacular after movies and shows like Valley Girl and Cluelessintroduced us to the so-called ‘Val Speak.’ Just like “um,” we involuntarily slip the word into our conversations, but it should be used when describing something that has the same form or character as something else.

Literally – This often used crutch word can irritate scrupulous listeners, as the incorrect usage of the adverb can render a statement senseless. The word is supposed to describe something in a strict manner without exaggeration, instead speakers often use it in figurative or hyperbolic sentences.



Space your writing
Ferman D. T.
Your piece "hits it out of the ballpark". While I have my own faults when writing, nothing displays your skills more than how you write. One of my many pet-peeves is in emails or other messages, the lack of white space. I hate it when I get a long single paragraph message, that would have been better sent in shorter paragraphs with spacing. It shows lack of thought and concern, even when it was not meant to do that. Taking a little time to make yourself look more professional can go a long way in validating your point.

Surinder S. Useful tip by Warren Buffet: Write with a specific person in mind.When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.

Anna Warwick S. Writing is like driving. If you want to break the rules, you have to be in full control of the car, and know the road conditions. That being said, some of the worst writing I see is when people write ponderous, long sentences with jargon and words of many syllables, like big slow trucks in the fast lane.

Renia B. What a great article. I would like to be a food/restaurant blogger and always have a hard time be succinct when it comes to explaining FOOD. I find myself wanting the world to taste, see and smell vicariously through my words. I would love guidance in that area. I have the inability to find that fine line between too much and not enough.
http://renia-lusby.wix.com/renia-butler


CRITICAL ANALYSIS & COMMENTARY
Jacquelyn O. "The number of poorly written emails, resumes and blog posts I come across each month is both staggering and saddening. Grammar is off. There are tons of misspellings. Language is much wordier or more complex than necessary. Some things I read literally make no sense at all to me." If you really knew your stuff, your first paragraph would look like this: "Each month I read a staggering number of poorly written emails, resumes and blog posts. They are flawed by poor grammar, misspelled words, and complex syntax. Some things I read literally make no sense." First sentence: tighter construction, got rid of passive voice, added Oxford comma (my style preference). My second sentence consolidates three of yours, and the closing sentence removes a silly repetition. You might want to read the Shrunk & White classic "Elements of Style," along with some of E.B. White's charming essays.20h

Humphrey G. I'm not sure that you practice what you preach: "Clear, succinct, convincing writing will differentiate you as a great thinker and a valuable asset to your team." "Clear, succinct, convincing" is already too verbose to be convincing, and it is not succinct. "differentiate" from what? Without an object here it sounds like you have been subjected to a mathematical treatment. "distinguish" would be a better choice. "and a valuable asset to your team" dangles uncomfortably at the end of the sentence and really needs another "as" to be clear.

Wally M. Entertaining article, the thinking is there, but there were still several clangers in the text. Both grammar and style need work. For example: "spend equal time and energy working on your headline as you do the piece ", the word 'equal' should be 'as much', in order to qualify the phrase 'as you do'. There were a few other things as well. I used to teach people how to write for the newspaper I owned. I told them to write as if they were presenting the material to a client. Just put it down as it comes out. Next, sort out the logical errors and reorganize it so that it flows. Then deal with grammar and spelling. Finally, have someone else look at it - you simply cannot edit your own material, you'll miss mistakes. Clearly, this is not a procedure for emails, texts and other brief communications. Finally - keep it simple. Being prolixic is the fastest way to lose your reader. And yes, I used 'prolixic' to make that point.

GENERAL READING