Writing with Precision: How to Write So That You Cannot Possibly Be Misunderstood


One of the most popular and respected style guides ever written, this handbook by a seasoned writer with more than forty years of experience offers ten principles and seven axioms that professional writers use to express their thoughts clearly and effectively. This latest edition is expanded to include an extensive glossary of American idiomatic expressions, developed to assist users from other backgrounds and cultures; new chapters with tips on little-known facts of usage, such as compound words, hyphenation, ...

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One of the most popular and respected style guides ever written, this handbook by a seasoned writer with more than forty years of experience offers ten principles and seven axioms that professional writers use to express their thoughts clearly and effectively. This latest edition is expanded to include an extensive glossary of American idiomatic expressions, developed to assist users from other backgrounds and cultures; new chapters with tips on little-known facts of usage, such as compound words, hyphenation, numeration, and capitalization; and explanations of technical problems encountered in writing and editing with tips and exercises to help solve them. For anyone faced with the challenges of written English, Writing with Precision can help readers write more clearly, more effectively, and more precisely than they ever have.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140288537
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 515,626
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jefferson D. Bates has served as Editorial Director of the Air Force "Readable Writing" Program, and as the Chief of NASA's speechwriting group. After leaving government service, he became president and CEO of Speak/Write Systems, Inc., a firm specializing in teaching writing and speaking skills. The author of five nonfiction books, he lives in Reston, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Credo Preface to the Penguin Edition Preface Acknowledgments About This Book... Who Needs It?

Part 1: Writing with Precision
1. Introduction Can Good Writing Be Taught?
What Is Good "Useful" Writing?
Why the Confusion About "Good Usage"?
Why Bother to Write Better?
The Economics of Clear Writing The Life You Save...
Getting Down to Brass Tacks Copyreading Marks

2. The Craft of the Editor Introduction Duties and Responsibilities of the Writer: A Preview Duties and Responsibilities of the Editor: A Preview Checklist of Editorial DOs and DON'Ts The "Rules" of Editing Ten Principles for Improving Clarity and Precision of Written Documents Editing Your Own Copy—Hardest Editorial Task of All Checklist of Steps in Revising or Self-Editing

3. Editing for Strength Introduction Definitions of Active and Passive Voice Make Every Word Count An Unwritten Rule?
When Should You Use a Passive Construction?
PRINCIPLE ONE: Prefer the active voice.
Smothered Verbs PRINCIPLE TWO: Don't make nouns out of good, strong "working verbs."

4. Editing for Conciseness and Clarity Introduction Why Is Conciseness So Important?
PRINCIPLE THREE: Be concise. Cut out all excess baggage. Keep your average sentence length under 20 words.
Too Much of a Good Thing?

5. The Quest for Clarity Introduction Checklist: How to Keep Writing "In Focus"
Clarity Is Everything PRINCIPLE FOUR: Be specific. Use concrete terms instead of generalizations.
Don't Sacrifice Clarity in Your Quest for Speed Abstraction—the Enemy of Clarity Use the Right Name for Things The Ladder of Abstraction

6. The Quest for Precision Introduction The Importance of Word Order in the English Language Ambiguity PRINCIPLE FIVE: Keep related sentence elements together; keep unrelated elements apart. Place modifiers as close as possible to the words they are intended to modify.
Misplaced Modifiers Look Out for "Only"
Dangling Modifiers Squinting Modifiers Consistency PRINCIPLE SIX: Avoid unnecessary shifts of number, tense, subject, voice, or point of view.

7. The Right Word Introduction Choosing the "Right Word"
Good English Is Appropriate English PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Prefer the simple word to the far-fetched, and the right word to the almost right.
The evils of elegant variation PRINCIPLE EIGHT: Don't repeat a word or words unnecessarily. But don't hesitate to repeat when the repetition will increase clarity.
Reference Works

8. How to Make Order Out of Chaos Introduction Parallelism PRINCIPLE NINE: Make sentence elements that are parallel in thought parallel in form. But do not use parallelism to express thoughts that are not parallel.
Making Logical Arrangements PRINCIPLE TEN: Arrange your material logically. Always begin with ideas the reader can readily understand. If you must present difficult material, go one step at a time.
Checklist for Logical Arrangement

9. How to Write Letters and Memos Introduction AXIOM ONE: Do not write without good reason.
Plain Letters Applying the 4-S Formula More Advice on Letter Writing The Importance of Tone Checklist of Common Mistakes to Guard Against Don't Be Obsequious or Phony The "You" Attitude Using "Word Softeners"
Is Tone Always Important?

10. Know Your Audience Introduction AXIOM TWO: Slant your presentation for your audience.
Checklist for Audience Analysis Analyzing Your Reader(s)
Writing for the "Average" Reader

11. Getting and Holding the Reader's Attention Introduction AXIOM THREE: Get straight to the point.
Exceptions to the rule.

12. How to Do "How-to-do-its"
Introduction AXIOM FOUR: Show the reader!
Checklist for Writing Instructions How to Describe Simultaneous Operations

13. How to Write Regulations Introduction Check with the Legal Staff Some Steps in the Right Direction Cutting Out the Legalistic Jargon The Rules for Shall and Will
The Rules for Must and Should
Checklist for Writing Regulations Exception Disclosures Consistency AXIOM FIVE: Be consistent.

14. How to Write Reports What's the Problem?
Getting Started Taking Notes: It's in the Cards!
Visualizing the Final Report Using Footnotes, Credits, and References Using Copyrighted Material Summing Up

15. The Easy Way to Outline Why the Old-fashioned Outline Often Doesn't Work Checklist: The Easy Way to Outline

16. How to Write Like a Pro Establishing Good Writing Habits Pat Jones's Advice Production Rates for Writers AXIOM SIX: Rewrite—rewrite—rewrite!
The Mechanics of Writing Production AXIOM SEVEN: Allow in your planning for production delays Deadlines and supervisors

17. Retaining and Using Your New Knowledge Training Is Big Business Some Ways to Help You Remember—and Use—Your New Knowledge and Skills The Big Secret of Learning and Remembering Information On to the Millennium Books on Cards Books on Tape Department of Anticlimax


Part 2: Editing (and Self-Editing) with Precision
18. An Editor's Credo What Is an Editor's Job?

19. Hyphenation and Word Compounding Doormats, Floormats, and Fruitflies So What's the Problem?
Research Getting Down to Common-Sense Principles Common-Sense Principle Number One Common-Sense Principle Two Common-Sense Principle Three Common-Sense Principle Four

20. Avoid "Second Cousin" Words Second Cousins and Lightning Bugs

21. Capital Crimes To Cap or Not to Cap?
Using Style Manuals Top Editorial Priority: Reader Understanding Why Do We Use Caps, Anyway?
A "Sea Story" from Space

22. Vogue Words and Technical Jargon A Definition of Terms Changing Patterns of Language The Two Cultures Common-Sense Principles—Vogue Words and Technical Terms

23. Tell Me Not in Mournful Numbers Figures? Or Words?
Numbers Speak Louder Than Words Numbers and Cases Billions and Billions and Billions All Numbers Great and Small

24. The Dangerfield Syndrome Must We Die to Get Respect?
Dictums from a Newspaper Stylebook Manners of Style? Or Style of Manners?
For Example?
Once More Unto the Breach!

25. Writers and Editors—Can't We Be Friends?
Crotchets, Anyone?
Two Words Better Than One?
Blue Pencils and Blue Language How Far, O Lord, How Far?
Two Schools of Thought Pride of Ownership

Part 3: Handbook
How to Use the Handbook Alphabetical Listings

Part 4: Exercises
Suggested Answers

About the Contributors Recommended Reading Bibliography Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2000

    Thank you Mr. Jefferson Bates

    I picked up this book because I was tired of never knowing for sure what the rules are when it comes to writing and grammer. I was surprised at how easy a read this book was. Mr. Bates has a true knack (or skill) of making a somewhat boring subject quite interesting indeed. The more I read, the more I wished I could just sit down and talk to this man in person. A very interesting read by a very interesting author. If you are a new writer looking for some guidence, or an old hack who has forgotten some of the basics, then this is a great place to start.

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