Robert Hartwell Fiscke has produced two powerful, literary weapons to guard against the growing trend of misspellings, tautologies and clichés as well as hackneyed metaphors, inane expressions and bloated or weak writing: The Dimwit's Dictionary: 5000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them (reviewed elsewhere) and The Dictionary of Concise Writing: 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases.
The key to good writing, according to Fiske who is also the author and publisher of The Vocabula Review (an online journal about the English language), is concise and precise writing ~ and that's just what he offers with these two excellent reference books.
Like Fiske's other guide, The Dictionary of Concise Writing can be used as a reference when needed or read cover to cover. In fact, reading it like a regular book is a good way to grasp the rudiments of good writing.
It comprises two parts: The first offers a wide range of advice on clear and concise writing, including practical suggestions for trimming the fat from sentences and adding more muscle to your work.
The second part is the dictionary, which presents several thousand common, verbose phrases and offers fresh, concise alternatives and real-world examples of useage.
A point made in the foreword by Dr Richard Lederer sums up the objective of the book: "Cutting the fat is probably the quickest and surest way to improve [your writing]."
The author expands on that point in the first chapter:
"Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, abused words, misspelled words and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.
"We often believe that many words are better than few. Perhaps we imagine that the more we say, the more we know or the more others will think we know, or that the more obscure our writing is, the more profound our thoughts are. Seldom, of course, is this so. Wordiness is arguably the biggest obstacle to clear writing and speaking."
As Fiske says, our language has become bloated with phrases such as 'at this juncture' or worse, 'at this moment in the history of my life' which simply translates as 'now'.
The Dictionary of Concise Writing is a must for any writer - amateur or pro - and anyone else wanting to communicate more effectively. But don't just buy it, keep it handy on your desk. If you're like me ~ you'll be reaching for it sooner than you think.
-- Michael Meanwell, author of the critically-acclaimed 'The Enterprising Writer' and 'Writers on Writing'. For more book reviews and prescriptive articles for writers, visit www.enterprisingwriter.com