Complete Plain Words 3rd Edition Paperback – Nov 2 2004
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About the Author
Sir Ernest Gowers was born in 1880 and served in a number of illustrious occupations. He advised numerous commissions and committees on a wide variety of subjects from work conditions to the preservation of historic houses. Sidney Greenbaum was a Director of the Survey of English Usage and was the author of many books on grammar and linguistics. Janet Whitcut has worked on a number of prestgious dictionaries and is now a freelance writer with a special interest in langauge.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is important to note that this guide is for a certain kind of writing only. I think that in many ways its advice is completely contrary to what we find in for instance great poetic writing. There the ambiguity and complication, the complexity irony and difficulty are elements in making us wish to reread and reread the writing. This guide is for the kind of writing which is meant to be understood at once in a complete way.
I feel there is certainly much I could learn from this book and I believe that is true of most readers and writers.
One thing that did surprise me a little from the book is just how wordy it is. Unfortunately, the author does not always follow his own advice to use the simple approach and to get to the point quickly. How much easier said than done.
Here's some of his advice from his chapter "The Choice of Words":
"Use no more words than are necessary to express your meaning, for if you use more you are likely to obscure it and to tire your reader. In particular do not use superfluous adjectives and adverbs and do not use roundabout phrases where single words would serve.
Use familiar words rather than the far-fetched, if they express your meaning equally well; for the familiar are more likely to be readily understood.
Use words with a precise meaning rather than those that are vague, for they will obviously serve better to make your meaning clear; and in particular prefer concrete words to the abstract, for they are more likely to have a precise meaning."
The author Sir Ernest Gowers also realizes that language and the written form of it are subject to change, which is refreshing. As such, his advice is to write using the conventions of the day, but always to shun the experimental forms of slang, short-hand expressions, and plain lazy writing. Sir Gowers writes:
"English is not static - neither in vocabulary nor in grammar, nor yet in that elusive quality called style. The fashion in prose alternates between the ornate and the plain, the periodic and the colloquial. Grammar and punctuation defy all the efforts of grammarians to force them into the mould of a permanent code of rules. Old words drop out and change their meanings; new words are admitted. What was stigmatized by the purists of one generation as a corruption of the language may a few generations later be accepted as an enrichment, and what was then common currency may have become a pompous archaism or acquired a new significance."
Although this book will certainly not replace "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White as the preeminent writing guide, "The Complete Plain Words" is an excellent resource for all writers struggling to communicate in a clear, concise fashion.