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


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


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.


Includes bibliographical references (p. [305]-313) and index.

About 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.

Table of Contents


Preface to the Penguin Edition



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


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


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


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


The Importance of Word Order in the English Language


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


PRINCIPLE SIX: Avoid unnecessary shifts of number, tense, subject, voice, or point of view.

7. The Right Word


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



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


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


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


AXIOM THREE: Get straight to the point.

Exceptions to the rule.

12. How to Do "How-to-do-its"


AXIOM FOUR: Show the reader!

Checklist for Writing Instructions

How to Describe Simultaneous Operations

13. How to Write Regulations


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


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


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?


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



Product Details

Bates, Jefferson D.
Penguin Books
New York :
English language
Business Writing
Business Communication - General
English language -- Rhetoric.
Reference-Writing as a Business
Edition Number:
New expanded ed.
Edition Description:
Mass Market
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
7.68x5.01x.62 in. .52 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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