Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Distilling, writing, editing

When reading submissions to Web sites for publication, I find very little creedence paid to The Elements of Style. This was especially the case in most Letters to the Editor that I considered for publication at The Dallas Morning News. So, in an effort to help people get square with effective communication, I offer a few tips:

I. Longer is not better. Your work, regardless of how perfect you may think it is, will need editing. It's not always anticipated by the writer, but you'll cross some lines in the areas of style and clarity, but the one most often transgressed is William Strunk Jr.'s clarion call to be brief.

II. Read your work. Don't just finish it and hit send. Nothing is so urgent that your work cannot marinate for five minutes so that you can go back and re-read it. I'll bet that you'll find something you want to change every time.

III. Don't make generalizations. There will always be a reader that will be the exception to your rule, and they will write a letter in response that will make you look like an idiot. Be specific, cite sources and use facts.

IV. Don't be lazy. Do not use bullet points in your letter. Write complete sentences and use paragraphs.

V. Make your letters personal. If I wanted to read some vauge treatise on global warming I would query an expert. Write about how issues affect you.

VI. See the first suggestion.

VII. Buy Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and use it as a reference when you are losing your way. (I'm doing this right now, hence the post.) You cannot go wrong with this book.

Agree? Disagree?


Josh said...

I actually made a whole video around a year ago urging people to buy a copy of The Elements of Style:

Not that it did any good. When it comes to recommending books I'm no Oprah.

Lisa said...

Agree. Shorter is almost always better. And concision is difficult!

Olivia said...

Agree, obviously!

Nanc said...

Yes. YES. YES!

Does the illustrated Strunk and White get me bonus points?