Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Write Tight: One Secret of Impressive Writing

“Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavor, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”—H. W. Fowler

How to Write in Plain English
Long words can be difficult to read, spell or understand. Don’t use long words when short substitutes will do. Several simple words may be clearer than a single long word. Write words your readers are likely to understand. Replace unusual words or phrases with plainer alternatives.

Practical Vocabulary Rules
In the first chapter of The King’s English, British lexicographer H.W. Fowler wrote:

Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance (languages descended from Latin).

Omit Needless Words
This subtitle sums up what William Strunk wrote in the first edition of The Elements of Style: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Longest Words in the Dictionary
For those who struggle to read, writing with long words may seem as difficult to read and understand, as the longest words in the dictionary are to pronounce and define.

otorhinolaryngological (22 letters)
immunoelectrophoretically (25 letters)
psychophysicotherapeutics (25 letters)
thyroparathyroidectomized (25 letters)
pneumoencephalographically (26 letters)
radioimmunoelectrophoresis (26 letters)
psychoneuroendocrinological (27 letters)
hepaticocholangiogastrostomy (28 letters)
spectrophotofluorometrically (28 letters)
antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters)
floccinaucinihilipilification (29 letters)
pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism (30 letters).
metaphysico-theologo-cosmonigology (34 letters)
praetertranssubstantiationalistically (37 letters)
osteosarchaematosplanchnochondroneuromuelous (44 letters)
pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (45 letters)
aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (52 letters)
osseocarnisanguineoviscericartilaginonervomedullary (51 letters). Rough translation? As 'of bone, flesh, blood, organs, gristle, nerve, and marrow'.

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