Author: Tim Richardson
Publisher: Meon Valley Press 2015
This is a book which addresses the need of everyone – from college students to professionals in any field whatsoever – to be able to write coherent English prose, whether that be an email, a blog, a press release, a company brochure or any other text that someone else is expected to read. The focus is on communicating a message clearly and economically, whilst attracting and maintaining the attention of the reader.
The author is a journalist, and his starting point is the principles and techniques taught to newspaper reporters at the start of their careers. He argues that a disciplined, almost formulaic, approach will enable anyone to improve their communicative skills and target their writing more successfully. His belief is that you don’t have to be a journalist to write like one, and that everyone can benefit from the techniques he describes. And once the rules have been learnt, he shows how they can be broken, in order to make a piece of writing more personal and creative.
The book is extremely readable, and every point is illustrated by engaging and amusing stories, accompanied by some lovely cartoons. It is generously sprinkled with tales of crashing pianos, rescued dogs, fishy diseases, eco-friendly wine bottles, generous bank managers, penitent joy-riders, all of whom conspire to show how a story can best be constructed. The practical examples clearly demonstrate the importance of putting information in the right order, how the angle of a story can be changed again and again to make it more appropriate for different audiences, how a few simple word changes can make something more engaging, and how extraneous information can be omitted without damaging the integrity of a text.
Though this is not intended primarily as a book for non-native speakers of English, I feel sure that many ELT teachers and students would benefit from it. It would make a good text for business English students and for those preparing to study at university in an English-speaking country. Each chapter ends with either a ‘Think about it’ or ‘Have a go!’ section, or both. These encourage readers to reflect on what has been discussed in the chapter, to analyse authentic texts that they encounter in light of what they now know and to try their hand at using the techniques for themselves.
If nothing else, this very accessible book clearly demonstrates that good writing does not have to be complicated, and that sophistication does not consist of cramming your sentences with clauses, long words and literary devices. The final chapter, ‘Refining your writing’, is full of the kind of sound advice on drafting, redrafting, checking, etc that teachers of writing regularly give their students. In a nutshell, the message is that all writers should have at the forefront of their minds the audience they are trying to reach and the message they wish to communicate. The rest is easy – or at least the author makes it appear so!