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How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them

Overview

Ben Yagoda's How to Not Write Bad illustrates how we can all write better, more clearly, and for a wider readership.

He offers advice on what he calls "not-writing-badly," which consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that also display clarity, precision, and grace. Then he focuses on crafting whole paragraphs—with attention to cadence, ...

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How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to AvoidThem

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Overview

Ben Yagoda's How to Not Write Bad illustrates how we can all write better, more clearly, and for a wider readership.

He offers advice on what he calls "not-writing-badly," which consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that also display clarity, precision, and grace. Then he focuses on crafting whole paragraphs—with attention to cadence, consistency of tone, sentence transitions, and paragraph length.

In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps we can all take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A forgiving--a purist might say overly forgiving--handbook for those in need of remedial grammar lessons, a category that includes most college students. Yagoda (Journalism/Univ. of Delaware; Memoir: A History, 2010, etc.) appreciates the Anne Lamotts, William Zinssers and E.B. Whites of the world, but he fears that their entreaties to add beauty to the language are misplaced. "Most students, I've found, can't handle writing ‘well.' At this point in their writing lives," he writes, "that goal is simply too ambitious." He later elaborates: The chief task is to rid students of such bad habits as stacked prepositional phrases and dysparallelism. Thus this handbook and its grating title: The goal is not to write well, but not to write badly--or, now that we don't have to worry about split infinitives, to not write badly. Yagoda strives a little too hard for laughs at times, but showmanship is part of the game. Much of what he has to say is the stuff of every other writing handbook, especially the admonition that every good writer--every not-bad writer, that is--is a good reader. But Yagoda occasionally turns in a truly fresh take on a problem, and this dictum alone is worth the price of admission: "When possible, make the subject of a sentence a person, a collection of persons, or a thing." Pair that with the injunction to avoid two spaces after a period, and you've got the makings of improved writing already, even allowing for Yagoda's liberal take on split infinitives and the use of "they" as the pronoun for a singular subject. It won't take the place of Strunk and White, but a useful addition to any writer's bookshelf.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488481
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 189,895
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben Yagoda  is a journalism professor at the University of Delaware. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of twelve books, including About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made; How to Not Write Bad; Memoir: A History; and Will Rogers: A Biography. He contributes to The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Lingua Franca" blog and has written for Slate, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and The American Scholar, among other publications. Yagoda lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, with his wife.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I How To Not Write Bad: The One-Word Version 15

Part II How To Not Write Wrong 25

A The Elements of House Style 25

1 Numbers and Abbreviations 26

2 Capitalization 27

3 Italics 29

4 There Is No Reason Ever to Use Boldface in a Piece of Writing, Except for a Section Heading (Like This) 30

B Punctuation 30

1 ' 30

2 - 35

3 - 39

4 , 40

5 ; 52

6 : 54

7 " " 54

8 ( ) 56

C Words 59

1 The Single Most Common Mistake Is the Most Easily Fixable Mistake 59

2 Spelling 59

3 Wrong Word 75

D Grammar 78

1 Sanitized 79

2 Skunked 82

3 Still Wrong 88

Part III How to Not Write Bad 103

A Punctuation 105

1 Quotation Marks 105

2 Exclamation Points, Dashes, Semicolons, Colons, Parentheses, Italics, and Rhetorical Questions 106

B Words and Phrases 108

1 Really Quick Fix: Avoid These Words! 108

2 Short Is Good (I) 116

3 Precision: Words That Are a Bit Off 119

4 Avoid Clichés Like the Plague 124

5 Euphemisms, Buzzwords, and Jargon 131

C Sentences 135

1 Word Rep. 135

2 Start Strong 139

3 End Strong 141

4 Short Is Good (II) 145

5 The Perils of Ambiguity 149

5 What Is the What? Or, the Trouble with Vague Pronouns 154

7 When You Catch a Preposition, Kill It 159

8 To Use to fie or Not to Use to Be 161

9 What the Meaning of "Is Is" Is 165

10 Tone 168

D Sentence to Sentence, Paragraph To Paragraph 169

Author's Note 173

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