Friday, April 08, 2011

Writing Style 1

I've started reading the book by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (10th Edition). The first lesson provides some gems about writing clearly. They list four reasons for unclear writing:

1. Some writers complicate their prose to impress. They wrongly think that the more complex the writing the deeper the thinking. Fact is the less clear the writing often means we don't really know what we're talking about.

2. A writer is too self-conscious about their writing so that they over think as they compose. They are afraid to make even the slightest grammar mistake.

3. Some writers especially those new to a subject freeze up as they are trying to think and write. They are intimated by the material and consequently the prose worsens as we seek to master a new idea.

4. Writers cannot predict what bits of their writing will appear unclear to a reader or even what makes it unclear. They point out that our writing always appears clearer to us because we don't read out what we've written, we read in what we think.

Williams and Colomb argue that the most important skill to master in order to write clearly is how to objectively analyze your writing that is "on the page".

One other point of advice the first lesson raises is one I have found so true and can be captured in a saying I've been repeating since reading it during my doctoral days:
"Good writing is the result of many revisions".
As Williams and Colomb put it, "most experienced writers get something down on paper or up on a screen as fast as they can. Then they revise that first draft into something clearer" (8).


Joshua Wooden said...

Question related to this post. What is THE most important book that you have read on good writing (clear and concise), and/or good prose?

Jeff Doles said...

Clear writing is also the result of clear thinking. A lot of the revision process is recognizing that what we just set down in words is jumbled or vague or unsupported. Or maybe even incoherent. At least that is how it happens with me.

Craig said...

I reviewed the non-textbook edition of _Style_ several years ago and gave it my seal of approval (see the Library Journal review on Amazon and quoted on the back cover of the book). It is my favorite book on good writing, though I'll confess that I haven't read all available similar texts.

Terry Wright said...

Some good tips. I'm also trying to figure which is the best style manual to follow, so further tips would be useful:

CS Sweatman said...

I struggle with all four of those reasons.