What makes good writing?

Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Writing |

How do readers decide if something is written well?  I think the most important thing is, did I understand it?  Then one can consider style, humour, tone and all the rest. It’s a lot easier to write a confusing sentence than a simple one.  Here are some quotes from authors (and a grammatician) to keep you motivated when the going gets tough!  I found the first three while I was preparing last week’s post on style guides, they are in the introduction to the Economist’s introduction. Mark Twain described how a good writer treats sentences: “At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won’t be a sea-serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession.” Long paragraphs, like long sentences, can confuse the reader. “The paragraph”, according to [H. W.] Fowler, “is essentially a unit of thought, not of length; it must be homogeneous in subject matter and sequential in treatment.” One-sentence paragraphs should be used only occasionally. Clear thinking is the key to clear writing. “A scrupulous writer”, observed [George] Orwell, “in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?” Finally, Ernest Hemmingway was accused by William Faulkner of using crude and simple language, to which he had this reply: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” Happy writing and good luck!...

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Write like a pro: use a style guide

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in Writing |

How do you write about the person who plays music on the radio or at the club?  Is it DJ, D.J., D. J., deejay or dee-jay? Should there be 3 commas or 4 commas in the list above? Should I have written three and four in the sentence above this one? Should I have written “three” and “four” in the sentence above this one? Is it better to write from 2-5:00 pm or from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm? Do you write the abbreviations for meters, kilograms, etc. next to the number or leave a space?  100m or 100 m? It’s confusing for everybody, even professional writers.  And for the pros, there is always someone who delights in finding “mistakes” and “exposing” the writers as barely literate children.  I’m sure the same thing happens in your language. The solution for this is the style guide.  Each publication that you read has a set of rules that they declare to be THE RULES.  Many of these rules will be the same for everyone, but sometimes they are particular for the institution.  But the purpose of style guides is not to declare one set of rules to be the only correct set of rules, but to make consistent choices in your writing.  So choose one of the style guides below and stick to it.  If you’ve followed the guide, you don’t have to worry about people telling you where to put your commas. These are all respected English publications written to a high standard: The Economist style guide The Guardian style guide The Telegraph style guide For business writing, why not follow the European Union style guide? The European Union style guide American style guides (sometimes called “stylebooks,” a term I doubt would be permitted in a British English publication) are a for-profit industry, I’m afraid.  All of the major publications’ stylebooks are available for purchase or online subscription only.  You can see a small sample of the Associated Press stylebook in the link below.  You can also try a free 30-day trial of the Chicago Manual of Style: Chicago Manual of Style AP Stylebook FAQs New York Times Manual of Style...

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Ask a teacher

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Grammar, Learning Websites, Vocabulary, Writing |

You’ve checked your dictionary and your grammar books and you still don’t know the best way to say something.  Or maybe you know the “right” way to say something, but you want to know why it’s the “right” way.  You might have problems with an idiom, slang or phrasal verbs; or you just want someone to check some sentences you’ve written. Here are two great forums where English teachers and native speakers will answer your questions for free!  I post on these forums because I like to learn more about the language and I just like talking to people. UsingEnglish.com/forum  I post here as Mr_Ben EnglishForums.com  I post here as mrBen Please be patient with the teachers on these sites we all answer questions in our free time and some questions are more difficult than others.  A lot of us answer questions on both sites as well, so please only ask your question once.  But I look forward to hearing from you… see you on the...

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Free spelling and grammar checking software

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Grammar, Writing |

We all use a spell-checker when we write, but most of them don’t notice when we write the wrong word.  If I wrote, “I had a bear at the pub last night,” all of the words are spelled correctly but I should have typed “beer.”  Ginger is a new kind of spelling and grammar checker that checks the context of your words, not just the words in isolation.  Ginger notices “pub” in the sentence and offers to correct it for me.  Try it here: World’s Leading Grammar and Spell Checker Learn More Ginger doesn’t catch everything (it accepted some present perfect/past simple errors in my tests), but it will catch a lot of mistakes.  Use it to quickly check your English emails and letters before you send them out.  It will keep a record of your errors and suggest activities for you to do, too.  Or it will just help you write better for...

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CAE writing style guide: review

Posted by on Mar 12, 2013 in CAE style guides |

5 of 5, click the buttons to read more about the the different styles of writing you may have to do in the exam: Essay Email/letter  Proposal  Report This is a short summary of some style points to keep in mind when attempting the tasks in the Cambridge English: Advanced writing section. Review Who is the audience? The audience for this question is usually an interested consumer or magazine reader. What is the purpose of the writing? You need to describe something (or some things) and give your opinion. Is it formal? No. Should I use headings or bullet points? You can use headings if you like. How should it start? You want to capture the readers’ interest.  Use a good title and an exciting opening sentence. How should it finish? Clearly state your opinion in the...

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