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Plain Style

Book Description

Good writing is good business. Simple, straightforward writing saves time, creates good relationships, and prevents expensive misunderstandings. But why is it so hard to achieve? This incisive guide suggests ways to think about writing -- what it should look and sound like, as well as what it should accomplish -- that can simplify how writers choose to express their ideas. It examines the reasons why many businesspeople with good skills tend to write strange, needlessly complicated sentences -- and shows them how to break the habit. Plain Style offers 35 practical techniques that foster simplicity, conciseness, and emphasis.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Introduction
    1. Plain Style
    2. Writing Can Easily Be Simplified
    3. What Makes Business Writing Needlessly Complex
    4. Why a Consensus Is Essential
    5. About This Book
  6. Definitions
  7. Part One: The Practical Writer
    1. The Problem With “Style”
      1. Toward a Definition of Style
    2. Practical Thinking
      1. 1. A good writer works hard so that the reader won’t have to.
      2. 2. The reader reads the words, not the mind.
      3. 3. The reader boils things down.
      4. 4. If you give the reader a chance to misunderstand you, he will take it.
      5. 5. The principal goal of good writing is to convey.
      6. 6. The meanings of words lie in the mind, not in the dictionary.
      7. 7. Good writing minimizes the chance of misunderstanding.
      8. 8. The complexity of the subject should be the only complexity in the writing.
      9. 9. In business, readers are ferociously impatient.
      10. 10. Good writing sounds like good speech.
      11. 11. Style must vary.
  8. Part Two: Techniques for Conciseness and Emphasis
    1. On Being Concise
      1. What Concise Means
      2. What Conciseness Requires
        1. 1. Write with verbs, not with nouns.
        2. 2. State what the subject does, not what it is.
        3. 3. Avoid “smothered verbs.”
        4. 4. Challenge make, do, give, have, provide, and perform.
        5. 5. Never use effect and impact as verbs; use affect only in the sense of “to influence.”
        6. 6. Challenge adverbs.
        7. 7. Reveal the verb early.
        8. 8. Don’t worry about “passive” or “active”; just put the right word first and tell the truth.
        9. 9. Challenge it is and there are constructions.
        10. 10. Have a very good reason when you conceal the actor.
        11. 11. Find the word that captures the sense.
        12. 12. Beware basis, manner, and way.
        13. 13. Be alert to “intruders.”
        14. 14. Avoid redundancy.
        15. 15. Don’t “double” terms.
        16. 16. Assert.
        17. 17. Avoid “noun strings.”
        18. 18. Qualify only when necessary.
        19. 19. Avoid unnecessary repetition.
    2. On Being Emphatic
      1. 20. Put words in subject-verb-object order.
      2. 21. Be judicious with that and which.
      3. 22. Use discretion when omitting that and which.
      4. 23. Place modifiers precisely.
      5. 24. Hyphenate to create the appropriate emphasis.
      6. 25. Keep equal ideas “parallel.”
      7. 26. Don’t vary terms without reason.
      8. 27. Vary terms only to avoid undue repetition.
      9. 28. Elaborate only when necessary.
      10. 29. Punctuate for nuance, not merely for clarity.
      11. 30. Do not allow dogmatic folderol to interfere with plain style.
      12. 31. Split the infinitive when emphasis requires it.
      13. 32. Don’t breed monsters in the attempt to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.
      14. 33. Use the idiom.
      15. 34. Use personal pronouns when they are necessary.
      16. 35. Use one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis.
      17. 36. Shift tenses when the truth demands it.
    3. On Choosing Words
      1. How to Find the Right Words
      2. Some Common Problems With Ordinary Words