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To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High-School English Teacher Taught You: 11 Myths, 11 Maxims

To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High-School English Teacher Taught You: 11 Myths, 11 Maxims

In today’s globalized age, few things are as important as the ability to write well. Put simply, clear communication is a sign of a clear mind. And yet, this skill is vanishingly scarce.

More and more, our emails resemble texts. Our plans don’t clarify; they complexify. We aim to impress, not to illuminate.

If these scenarios sound familiar, here’s the good news: You’re not alone.

Even better: The problem is fixable; the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable.

And that’s the point of this business-writing workshop. Give me anywhere from one hour to a one day, and I promise you this: You’ll leave with the confidence and know-how to make your writing precise, crisp, and enjoyable.

Here’s a glimpse of what we’ll cover:

1. Which rules of English it’s ok to break.

2. Why no topic is too complicated or boring to be made engrossing.

3. Why every authority on language recommends that you use contractions.

4. Why simple writing is so powerful.

5. Why your writing needs to engage both sides of the brain.

6. Why style — everything from how your words sound to how they look — matters as much as substance, or what your words say.

We’ll conclude with an editing exercise.

Jonathan Rick
PRO

February 25, 2018
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  1. TO WRITE WELL, FORGET EVERYTHING YOUR HIGH-SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER TAUGHT

    YOU 11 MYTHS, 11 MAXIMS
  2. None
  3. A pple U niversity

  4. C

  5. There are a million reasons why you think you “can’t”

    write.
  6. There are a million reasons why you think you “can’t”

    write. My job doesn’t depend on it. The topic doesn’t interest me. I get “writer’s block.”
  7. Respectfully, those are all bullshit. They may be true, but

    they’re still bullshit. There’s no reason you can’t be a better writer.
  8. “I have doctor’s block.”

  9. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us

    just get up and go to work.” —Stephen King
  10. “Imagine the act of writing less as a special talent

    and more as carpentry.” —Roy Peter Clark
  11. MYTHS

  12. MYTH 1: WRITING IS EASY MYTH #1: WRITING IS EASY.

  13. “Writing is easy. I just sit in front of my

    typewriter and wait for drops of blood to fall from my forehead onto the page.” —Red Smith
  14. “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come

    out right the first time, or even the third time.” —William Zinsser
  15. 1

  16. “Thinking with- out writing is daydreaming.” —Richard Wagner 2

  17. “I write because I don’t know what I think until

    I read what I say.” —Flannery O’Connor 2
  18. BUT IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK.

  19. “You must unlearn what you have learned.” —Yoda

  20. MYTH #2: I WAS ALWAYS TAUGHT TO NEVER…

  21. None
  22. aboard about above after against along among around as at

    before behind below between beyond concerning despite down during except for from in near off on over past since than through until with
  23. …END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION.

  24. This is the sort of bloody nonsense I won’t put

    up with. BROAD GUIDELINES BLIND OBEDIENCE This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.
  25. None
  26. None
  27. MYTH #3: IF I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M READING, IT’S

    MY FAULT.
  28. RARE WELL-DONE

  29. “If you tasted some food that you didn’t think tasted

    right, you would assume that the food was wrong. But for some reason, it’s part of the human condition that if we struggle to use something, we assume that the problem resides with us.” —Jony Ive
  30. “With the eurozone in internal and external balance and creditor

    eurozone seeking internal balance via ever-larger external imbalances in the form of current- account surpluses, debtor eurozone could only attain internal balance with ever-larger external imbalances in the form of current-account deficits.” —Martin Wolf
  31. “Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative

    relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort, a relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in term.” —Karl Marx
  32. MYTH #4: IF I WRITE EVOCATIVELY, I WON’T BE TAKEN

    SERIOUSLY.
  33. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies

    the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” —Anthony Kennedy, Obergefell v. Hodges
  34. Dear Sir: I like words. I like fat buttery words,

    such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is- white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demimonde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. Pirosh, Page 1
  35. I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I

    decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood. But before taking the plunge, I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation, and horsing around. I have just returned, and I still like words. May I have a few with you? — Robert Pirosh Pirosh, Page 2
  36. “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm

    on the American economy.” —Warren Buffett
  37. MYTH 4: WRITING SIMPLY MEANS I MUST DUMB MYSELF DOWN.

    MYTH #5: WRITING SIMPLY MEANS I MUST DUMB MYSELF DOWN.
  38. 1 simple dumb

  39. “The ability to simplify means eliminating the unnecessary, so that

    the necessary may speak.” —Hans Hofmann
  40. simple simplistic 2

  41. simple clear 2

  42. The state of Maryland often passes laws telling cities and

    towns what to do. Almost always, the cost to implement these initiatives falls to local governments. These unfunded mandates are unjust. When Annap- olis forces Aberdeen to do something, Aberdeen should get some kind of reimbursement. SIMPLE COMPLEX To avert the all-too- common enactment of requirements without regard for their local cost and tax impact, the commission recommends that statewide interest should be clearly identified on any propos- ed mandates, and that the state should reimburse local government for some state-imposed mandates.
  43. simple easy 3

  44. “Don’t write so that you can be under- stood. Write

    so that you can’t be misunderstood.” —William Howard Taft
  45. “I know what I mean; I just can’t explain it.”

  46. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it

    well enough.” —Albert Einstein
  47. None
  48. simple boring 4

  49. C.E.O. Our mission is to become the international leader in

    the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives. J.F.K. I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
  50. C.E.O. We hold these truths to be indubitably manifest: That

    mankind is engen- dered with parity; that they are endowed by a deity with foundational, inalienable rights; that among these are the rights to own one’s life, to unobstructed action, and to self-actualization. JEFFERSON We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  51. MYTH #6: MY READERS ARE TOO AUGUST TO BE ADDRESSED

    IN THE COMMON TONGUE.
  52. “Awesome writing isn’t about developing a ‘deliverable’ or creating ‘content.’

    It’s about putting the right words and right graphics in the right places, touching hearts and minds to change how people act, think, feel, or fund.” —Paul Stregevsky
  53. THE U.K. I’d like you to roll out a top-down

    automotive cleansing initiative, which will be incentivized with fiscal remuneration. THE U.S. I’ll pay you five bucks to wash my car.
  54. None
  55. MONEY STUFF THE JOURNAL Commodity futures need to be standardized

    and tied to a physical delivery point, which in this case was overwhelmed. There’s nowhere to put the oil.
  56. Engineer This system works because of A.I. integration through motion

    scaling and tremor reduction. Businessman The system works because we use artificial intelligence to scale motion and reduce tremors. Teenager This system works because we coded the robot’s move- ments to be more precise and less shaky.
  57. SILICON VALLEY Users leverage our platform to drive optimized outcomes.

    PLANET EARTH People use our app to get better results.
  58. “Your writing must be not only clear, but also clear

    on the first reading.” —Richard Lauchman
  59. MYTH #7: CONTRACTIONS ARE UNPROFESSIONAL.

  60. VERSION #1 It is time to go. VERSION #2 It’s

    time to go.
  61. They’re informal. They’re colloquial. They’re breezy. They’re ok to use

    in speaking but not in writing.
  62. “The common fear is that using contractions can make your

    writing seem breezy. For most of us, though, that risk is nil. What you gain should be a relaxed sincerity.” —Bryan Garner
  63. VERSION #1 What is up? VERSION #2 What’s up?

  64. VERSION #1 Do not delay! Our special sale will not

    last for long! VERSION #2 Don’t delay! Our special sale won’t last for long!
  65. Less stuffy. More fluid. More natural. Easier to read.

  66. Instead of This Try This it is it’s that is

    she is you are there is are not we do not I would you will should not that’s she’s you’re there’s aren’t we don’t I’d you’ll shouldn’t
  67. MYTH #8: I CAN’T MAKE THIS TOPIC INTERESTING BECAUSE IT’S

    TOO…
  68. MYTH #8: I CAN’T MAKE THIS TOPIC INTERESTING BECAUSE IT’S

    TOO COMPLEX.
  69. None
  70. Credit-default swaps Collateralized- debt obligations Synthetic collateralized- debt obligations

  71. WON AN OSCAR FOR BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY “If there were

    a prize for clarity, this film would be the clear favorite.”
  72. None
  73. None
  74. Margin calls Value at risk Vector autoregression

  75. NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR (BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY) A “financial thriller.”

  76. MYTH #8: I CAN’T MAKE THIS TOPIC INTERESTING BECAUSE IT’S

    TOO DRY.
  77. Syria

  78. None
  79. WAS THE 11TH MOST-POPULAR ITEM ON FACEBOOK IN 2013

  80. None
  81. Huge incarceration rates Inedible food Appalling healthcare Ubiquitous rape jokes

    Unstoppable privatization Racist drug laws
  82. WON 20 PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS “Supremely watchable wonkery.”

  83. “The solution the show cannily identified was a 10- to

    20-minute segment on a specific, often eggheady topic — one that had perhaps been eschewed by other media organizations for being complicated, dull, vast, and/or otherwise anathema. The long rants, many of which have gone viral, are master classes in how to make downer subjects encased in received wisdom lively, funny, and entertaining without obscuring their essential seriousness.” —Willa Paskin
  84. MYTH #8: I CAN’T MAKE THIS TOPIC INTERESTING BECAUSE IT’S

    TOO LONG.
  85. None
  86. NOMINATED FOR 5 EMMYS

  87. None
  88. NOMINATED FOR 10 OSCARS AND 5 GOLDEN GLOBES

  89. MYTH #9: MY READERS CARE ONLY ABOUT THE FACTS

  90. None
  91. None
  92. None
  93. C.E.O. Team, we’re outnumbered. If you follow me, you’ll likely

    die or be seriously wounded. But surrender isn’t an option, so… march forward, men! Charge! HENRY V We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now abed shall think them- selves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
  94. None
  95. “If logic alone were enough, no one would smoke cigarettes.

    No one would be afraid to fly on airplanes. And every smart proposal would be adopted. Logic is essential, but without emotion, you’re not playing with a full deck.” —Seth Godin
  96. MYTH #10: WHAT I SAY MATTERS MORE THAN HOW IT

    SOUNDS.
  97. “Most of what gets described as ‘good writing’ is so

    described because it sounds right. It flows when it should flow and slows when it should slow. The stresses fall naturally on the words that the writer wants to empha- size. The reader doesn’t stumble over an unintended internal rhyme or a clumsy repetition.” —Sam Leith “Most of what gets described as ‘good writing’ is so described because it sounds right. It flows when it should flow and slows when it should slow. The stresses fall naturally on the words that the writer wants to emphasize. The reader doesn’t stumble over an unintended internal rhyme or a clumsy repetition.” —Sam Leith
  98. None
  99. VERSION #1 to go boldly where no man has gone

    before VERSION #2 to boldly go where no man has gone before
  100. VERSION #1 to go boldly where no man has gone

    before VERSION #2 to boldly go where no man has gone before
  101. ONLY POETS CARE ABOUT POLYSYNDETONS. FOR EXAMPLE

  102. VERSION #1 I went to the market, picked up the

    kids, and paid the bills. VERSION #2 I went to the market and I picked up the kids and I paid the bills.
  103. ONLY MUSICIANS CARE ABOUT CADENCE. FOR EXAMPLE

  104. VERSION #1 This sentence has five words. Here are five

    more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become mono- tonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. VERSION #2 Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. In other words: Sometimes I use short sentences. Sometimes I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I’ll engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals — sounds that say, “Listen to this; it’s important!” So, write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.
  105. ONLY COMEDIANS CARE ABOUT CRESCENDOS. FOR EXAMPLE

  106. VERSION #1 Much of Obama’s foreign policy can be summarized

    as follows: Do the oppo- site of what George W. Bush did. VERSION #2 Much of Obama’s foreign policy can be summarized as follows: Watch George W. Bush, then do the opposite.
  107. VERSION #1 I’d love to give you some free drowning

    lessons. Come to my pool. VERSION #2 Come to my pool; I’d love to give you some free drowning lessons.
  108. MYTH #11: A HEADLINE MUST NEVER BE CUTE.

  109. BORING Aberrational Behavior and the Causal Effect of Incentives CUTE

    Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
  110. GENERAL How to Sell Social Media SPECIFIC 15 Case Studies

    to Get Your Client on Board With Social Media
  111. None
  112. ON BRAND Entitlements: Face the Truth, or Face the Consequences

    VIRAL 10 Entitlement Truths That Will Blow Your Mind 895 views 26,627 views
  113. Headline Clicks 1. Everything You Know About Writing Is Wrong:

    10 Myths, 10 Rules 2. 10 Myths and 10 Rules of Good Business Writing 3. Everything You Need to Know About Writing 4. You Don’t Have to Be Shakespeare to Write Well. Just Learn These 20 Myths and Rules 5. Most Business Writing Is Lousy. Here's Why — And How to Fix It 6. To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High- School English Teacher Taught You 7. Writing Isn’t Easy, but It Can Be a Lot Easier With These 15 Rules 8. If Steve Jobs Wrote As Well As He Delivered Presentations, This Would Be His Playbook
  114. Headline Clicks 1. Everything You Know About Writing Is Wrong:

    10 Myths, 10 Rules 3 2. 10 Myths and 10 Rules of Good Business Writing 0 3. Everything You Need to Know About Writing 1 4. You Don’t Have to Be Shakespeare to Write Well. Just Learn These 20 Myths and Rules 10 5. Most Business Writing Is Lousy. Here's Why — And How to Fix It 0 6. To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High- School English Teacher Taught You 23 7. Writing Isn’t Easy, but It Can Be a Lot Easier With These 15 Rules 0 8. If Steve Jobs Wrote As Well As He Delivered Presentations, This Would Be His Playbook 3
  115. Report, Proposal, Slide Deck Content Headline Memo Email Title RE:

    Subject Line
  116. Let’s Recap Why is writing hard? 1/11

  117. Let’s Recap Name one “rule” of English that it’s perfectly

    ok to break. 2/11
  118. Let’s Recap If you don’t understand something you read, what

    does that mean? 3/11
  119. Let’s Recap How does writing evocatively help your reader? 4/11

  120. Let’s Recap What does writing “simply” mean? 5/11

  121. Let’s Recap “I wanted to write something interesting,” some people

    say, “but the topic was too _______.” 6/11
  122. Let’s Recap When should you complexify your words? 7/11

  123. Let’s Recap When are contractions appropriate? 8/11

  124. Let’s Recap Why should you pad facts with stories? 9/11

  125. Let’s Recap Name one way to make your sentences sound

    better. 10/11
  126. Let’s Recap Is it ok to employ hyperbole in a

    headline? 11/11
  127. Maxims

  128. MAXIM RULE General truth Fixed decree

  129. MAXIM 1 Revise, then revise again.

  130. “Much advice on good writing is really advice on revising.

    That’s because very few people are smart enough to be able to lay down some semblance of an argument and to express it in clear prose at the same time. Most writers require two passes to accomplish that. And after they’ve got the ideas down, now it’s time to refine and polish.” —Steven Pinker
  131. “The first draft of anything is shit.” —Ernest Hemingway

  132. OUTLINE FINAL COPY Point #1 Point #2 Point #3 Point

    #4 Point #5 Point #2 Point #5 Point #4 Point #6
  133. None
  134. “I spend four or five hours editing. I go through

    the text 15 times from beginning to end — cleaning, sanding, polishing — just like a clay ornament. Then I sleep on it — that’s the best part. Then I wake up in the morning and spend another hour, because by then, overnight, I’ve discovered 15 egregious errors.” —Charles Krauthammer
  135. “I spend four or five hours editing. I go through

    the text 15 times from beginning to end — cleaning, sanding, polishing — just like a clay ornament. Then I sleep on it — that’s the best part. Then I wake up in the morning and spend another hour, because by then, overnight, I’ve discovered 15 egregious errors.” —Charles Krauthammer
  136. “I spend four or five hours editing. I go through

    the text 15 times from beginning to end — cleaning, sanding, polishing — just like a clay ornament. Then I sleep on it — that’s the best part. Then I wake up in the morning and spend another hour, because by then, overnight, I’ve discovered 15 egregious errors.” —Charles Krauthammer
  137. “I spend four or five hours editing. I go through

    the text 15 times from beginning to end — cleaning, sanding, polishing — just like a clay ornament. Then I sleep on it — that’s the best part. Then I wake up in the morning and spend another hour, because by then, overnight, I’ve discovered 15 egregious errors.” —Charles Krauthammer
  138. None
  139. None
  140. 104 That’s how many drafts it took David Ogilvy to

    perfect his Rolls Royce ad.
  141. “Is this the best you can do?” —Henry Kissinger

  142. Flow Tone Emphasis READ ALOUD PROOFREAD Spelling Grammar

  143. None
  144. 4 Easy Ways to Become a Better Writer 1. Change

    the typeface.
  145. 4 Easy Ways to Become a Better Writer 1. Change

    the typeface. 2. Change the typeface size.
  146. 4 Easy Ways to Become a Better Writer 1. Change

    the typeface. 2. Change the typeface size. 3. Print.
  147. 4 Easy Ways to Become a Better Writer 1. Change

    the typeface. 2. Change the typeface size. 3. Print. 4. Walk away.
  148. None
  149. None
  150. MAXIM 2 Employ an editor.

  151. “The secret to good writing is good editing. It’s what

    separates hastily written, randomly punctuated, incoherent rants from learned polemics and op-eds.” —Harry Guinness
  152. “The writer in me desires what the editor in me

    cannot abide. I treasure every precious con- struction, every not-so- clever aside. (Like this one.) So the cuts I make to my own drafts are marginal. I compress rather than select; shake, never prune. Until another editor does it for me.” —Carlos Lozada
  153. None
  154. None
  155. Suggestions COMMENTS TRACK CHANGES Corrections

  156. MAXIM 3 Write the way you speak. 3

  157. “College students—and, after they graduate, many working adults—have been socialized

    to believe they must ‘sound smart’ when they write—that is, that their regular inner monologue is not smart enough. So when they read advanced, specialized writing and don’t understand it, they understandably equate completely incomprehensible with intelligent .” —Rebecca Schuman “College students — and, after they graduate, many working adults — have been socialized to believe they must ‘sound smart’ when they write — that is, that their regular inner monologue is not smart enough.” —Rebecca Schuman
  158. INVESTORS Twine Health is creating an entirely new healthcare experience

    by moving from episodic, office- based care to continuous, collaborative care that’s integrated into patients’ daily lives. FRIENDS Most doctors treat patients only when they’re sick. Twine’s app helps doctors keep patients healthy between visits.
  159. INVESTORS We provide efficiency optimization. FRIENDS We make your supply

    chain more efficient.
  160. EMPLOYEES The Area Vice President for Enterprise Customers will develop

    and manage a sustainable strategic relationship that creates joint value that results in the ongoing reduction of costs, continuous process improvement, and growth and profitability for both partners, with the ability to export key learnings. COWORKERS You’ll show our most important customers the benefits of working with us, and then share what you learn.
  161. MAXIM 4 Prefer .

  162. Speak directly to your readers. Concretize abstractions. Make your words

    more impactful.
  163. MAXIM 4 Prefer personal pronouns.

  164. I you he she it we they me him her

    us them
  165. VERSION #1 No bag heavier than 10 pounds will be

    permitted inside the park. VERSION #2 Security won’t let you in the park if your bag is heavier than 10 pounds.
  166. VERSION #1 An understanding of the factors involved in excessive

    drinking by students could lead to more effective treatment. VERSION #2 If we understood why students drink too much, we could treat them more effectively.
  167. VERSION #1 Unemployment remains high. VERSION #2 One in every

    12 people in our neighborhood doesn’t have a job.
  168. MAXIM 5 Surprise your readers. 5

  169. “Avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.” —William Safire

  170. CLICHÉ Go big, or go home. PUN Go big, then

    go home.
  171. CLICHÉ They missed the forest for the trees. PUN They

    missed the forest for the twigs.
  172. CLICHÉ Actions speak louder than words. PUN Actions speak louder

    than Tweets.
  173. MAXIM 6 Make your verbs muscular.

  174. Let’s talk about setting goals. MUSCULAR FEEBLE Let’s talk about

    goal setting.
  175. ► She slinked through the corridor. ► I longed to

    visit the forest. ► I sprinted to the street. MUSCULAR FEEBLE ► She walked through the corridor. ► I wanted to visit the forest. ► I ran to the street.
  176. Amazon’s revenue grew by only 3%. As a result, its

    stock cratered by 5%. MUSCULAR FEEBLE Amazon’s revenue increased by only 3%. As a result, its stock decreased by 5%.
  177. MAXIM 7 Think visually. 7

  178. How your writing looks can be as important as what

    it says.
  179. How your writing looks can be as important as what

    it says.
  180. “The right design choices make a document easier to read

    and its information easier to understand. The wrong design choices can make even a well- written document fail to communicate.”
  181. None
  182. None
  183. DENSE They have an outdated list of reporters, which we

    haven’t received yet. Would like your suggestions. They don’t have tagline or elevator pitch. They haven’t done any P.R. for six years. I asked last week about their testimonials, and they said most were old, so I asked them to come up with others. DIGESTIBLE They have an outdated list of reporters, which we haven’t received yet. Would like your suggestions. They don’t have tagline or elevator pitch. They haven’t done any PR for six years. I asked last week about their testimonials; they said most were old, so I asked them to come up with others. Short Paragraphs
  184. 6 That’s how many lines you should cap each paragraph

    at.
  185. DENSE We need to send out our quarterly fundraising appeal

    this week. Please make sure to use our new letterhead and to mention our op-ed last month in the Journal. Also, run this by Leonora for design and Tim for copyediting. DIGESTIBLE We need to send out our quarterly fundraising appeal this week. Please remember to do the following: 1. Use our new letterhead. 2. Mention our op-ed last month in the Journal. 3. Run this by Leonora for design. 4. Run this by Tim for copyediting. List
  186. DENSE “She’s not promoting it, but she can be found

    on Twitter at @DigitaLori.” “Follow Richard Levick on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on the issues impacting corporate brands.” “Nate Hindman and Joe Epstein are ‘On the Road With Free Enterprise,’ visiting small businesses and entrepreneurs and checking out local events.” “Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@ gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.” DIGESTIBLE Good “She’s not promoting it, but she can be found on Twitter at @DigitaLori.” Better “Follow Richard Levick on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on the issues impacting corporate brands.” Great “Nate Hindman and Joe Epstein are ‘On the Road With Free Enterprise,’ visiting small businesses and entrepreneurs and checking out local events.” H eadings
  187. DENSE Business Insider raised $12M in March, at a $100M

    valuation, after Mashable raised $13M in January. Vox Media raised $46.5M in November, at a valuation of $380M. Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com, raised $160M in May, valuing the company at $1.1B. And then, dwarfing all the others, Vice Media raised an eye-popping $500M, in a deal which valued the company at $2.5B. DIGESTIBLE Publication When Capital (Millions) Mashable January $13 Business Insider March $12 Automattic May $160 Vice Media September $500 Vox Media November $46.5 Table
  188. Short Paragraphs Lists Headings Tables Line Breaks Line Spacing Character

    Spacing Typefaces Colors
  189. MAXIM 8 Embrace comparisons.

  190. VERSION #1 State Farm is there. VERSION #2

  191. “Infections are the criminals. The immune system’s the police.” —Gregory

    House
  192. LITERAL We inject gadolinium into a vein. It distributes itself

    throughout your brain and acts as a contrast material for the magnetic resonance imager. FIGURATIVE Basically, whatever’s in your head lights up like a Christmas tree.
  193. LITERAL Spain says Catalonia’s vote was unconstitutional, and it’s called

    on Cata- lonians to back off their plans. They’ve refused. FIGURATIVE Spain says Catalonia’s vote was unconstitutional, and it’s called on Cata- lonians to back off their plans. They’ve been sending those calls to voicemail.
  194. BILL GATES Computers are the most empowering tools we’ve ever

    created. STEVE JOBS The Mac is a bicycle for your mind.
  195. MAXIM 9 Contextualize big numbers. 9

  196. NO CONTEXT Scientists say they’ve discovered a fossil in Egypt

    of a new dinosaur. They say the species was nearly 33 feet long. CONTEXT That’s about the size of a school bus.
  197. NO CONTEXT A bomb-sniffing dog can detect a teaspoon of

    chemical in a million gallons of water. CONTEXT That’s nearly enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools.
  198. #1 The U.S. federal budget is about $4 trillion a

    year. #2 The U.S. federal budget is about $127,000 a second. #3 In one second, the federal government spends what two typical American families earn in an entire year.
  199. None
  200. Grams of Fat The Maximum Daily Intake Recommended by the

    U.S.D.A. A Medium-Size Bag of Movie- Theater Popcorn 10 20 30 40 0
  201. + + =

  202. Popcorn Gets an “R” Rating Theater Popcorn Is Double Feature

    of Fat Lights, Action, Cholesterol!
  203. MAXIM 10 Cite specifics.

  204. None
  205. BAD Dessert BETTER Ice Cream BEST Rum-Raisin Ice Cream

  206. GENERAL Governor Brian Kemp reopened close-contact businesses on Friday. SPECIFIC

    Governor Brian Kemp reopened close-contact businesses on Friday, inviting citizens to go bowling, get tattoos, and renew their highlights.
  207. GENERAL I realized that something I’d started on my iPhone

    had become a 1,500-word essay. SPECIFIC I realized that an email I’d started on my iPhone had become a 1,500-word essay.
  208. Instead of This Try This facility gym, campus, office wild

    animals environment weapons of mass destruction lions, tigers, bears air, water, soil sarin, smallpox, anthrax
  209. MAXIM 11 Write for an audience of one.

  210. “Write to please just one person. If you open a

    window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” —Kurt Vonnegut
  211. “When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m

    talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.” —Warren Buffet
  212. “When I worked as a journalist, I had an ‘imaginary

    reader.’ My model was my brother. He’s a civil engineer, and he’s interested in technology but doesn’t follow technology day in and day out. I imagined myself writing for him — a smart guy who wants a quick summary so he can stay up to speed.” —Dan Lyons
  213. “My typical reader is a 45-year-old guy with three kids

    who’s an engineer at some company outside of Atlanta.” —Malcolm Gladwell
  214. Let’s Recap Beyond proofreading, what’s another way to revise your

    work? 1/11
  215. Let’s Recap What’s the easiest way to kill your darlings?

    2/11
  216. Why should you write the way you speak? 3/11 Let’s

    Recap
  217. Identify one benefit of personal pronouns. 4/11 Let’s Recap

  218. Instead of using clichés, great writers create ____? 5/11 Let’s

    Recap
  219. What type of verbs are best? 6/11 Let’s Recap

  220. Identify two ways to make your writing visually impactful. 7/11

    Let’s Recap
  221. Why are comparisons good? 8/11 Let’s Recap

  222. Why does it mean to “humanize” a big number? 9/11

    Let’s Recap
  223. Why are concrete words better than abstract ones? 10/11 Let’s

    Recap
  224. Who’s your audience of one? 11/11 Let’s Recap

  225. Maxims BONUS

  226. MAXIM 12 Kill zombie nouns.

  227. “A process called ‘nominalization’ takes a perfectly spry verb and

    embalms it into a lifeless noun. Instead of ‘affirming’ an idea, you effect its ‘affirmation’; rather than ‘postponing’ something, you implement a ‘postpone- ment.’ These zombie nouns can turn prose into a night of the living dead.” —Steven Pinker
  228. Lifeless Noun Spry Verb Can you provide clarification? Can you

    clarify? Let’s have a discussion. She is opposed to sharing. The team is in agreement. We are in receipt of your invoice. Give her some encouragement. Sloth is the cause of sloppiness. I’ll be a benefit to your team. I have a thirst for challenges. It’s a testament to her character. Let’s discuss. She opposes sharing. The team agrees. We received your invoice. Encourage her. Sloth causes sloppiness. I’ll benefit your team. I thirst for challenges. It testifies to her character.
  229. “I call these ‘zombie nouns’ because they cannibalize active verbs,

    suck the lifeblood from adjectives, and substitute abstract entities for human beings.” —Helen Sword
  230. ZOMBIE NOUN Upon completion of a P.W.P. course, you’ll know

    to write with vigor. SPRY VERB After completing a P.W.P. course, you’ll know to write with vigor.
  231. ZOMBIE NOUNS They use machine learning to do image recognition

    and object detection. SPRY VERBS They use machine learning to recognize images and detect objects.
  232. MAXIM 7 Favor the active voice. 13

  233. PASSIVE The stock was bought. ACTIVE The investor bought the

    stock.
  234. PASSIVE Any help would be much appreciated. ACTIVE We’d appreciate

    any help.
  235. PASSIVE It Was Heard Through the Grapevine ACTIVE I Heard

    It Through the Grapevine
  236. PASSIVE You Will Always Be Loved ACTIVE I Will Always

    Love You
  237. PASSIVE My Heart Was Left in San Francisco ACTIVE I

    Left My Heart in San Francisco
  238. #1 The report was written by multiple, cross- agency stakeholder

    groups. #2 Multiple, cross-agency stakeholder groups wrote the report. #3 Stakeholders across various agencies wrote the report.
  239. PASSIVE By the end of the 2012 campaign, every Mitt

    Romney tweet had to be approved by 22 people. ACTIVE By the end of the 2012 campaign, 22 people had to approve every Mitt Romney tweet.
  240. MAXIM 14 Frame the conversation.

  241. “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.” —Frank

    Luntz
  242. VERSION #1 Do you support Medicare for all? 63% of

    respondents say “yes.” VERSION #2 Do you support single- payer health care? 44% of respondents say “yes.”
  243. INSTEAD OF THIS TRY THIS estate tax death tax fat

    drunk torture secretary greenhouse gases jail used dolphin fish Patagonian toothfish curvy overserved enhanced interrogation executive assistant pollution correctional center pre-owned mahi mahi Chilean sea bass
  244. MAXIM 15 Think, don’t feel.

  245. VERSION #1 I feel I deserve a raise. VERSION #2

    I think I deserve I raise.
  246. #1 We feel we’re qualified for this project because of

    our work with Washington’s top trade associations. #2 We’re confident we’re qualified for this project because of our work with Washington’s top trade associations. #4 Our work with Washington’s top trade associations qualifies us for this project. #3 We’re qualified for this project because of our work with Washington’s top trade associations.
  247. MAXIM 16 Favor the singular.

  248. VERSION #1 Smart consultants question the status quo. VERSION #2

    The smart consultant questions the status quo.
  249. VERSION #1 Entrepreneurs create their own luck. VERSION #2 An

    entrepreneur creates his own luck.
  250. VERSION #1 Entrepreneurs create their own luck. VERSION #2 An

    entrepreneur creates his own luck.
  251. VERSION #1 Swimmers who practice hard excel in meets. VERSION

    #2 The swimmer who practices hard excels in meets.
  252. VERSION #1 People can be difficult. VERSION #2 A person

    can be difficult.
  253. MAXIM 17 Bypass buzzwords.

  254. None
  255. INSTEAD OF THIS JUST SAY THIS form factor size net

    external liability position real unit labor cost national debt wages
  256. MAXIM 18 Break up noun clusters.

  257. VERSION #1 The Electricity Policy Technical Assistance Program VERSION #2

    The Technical Assistance Program for Electricity Policy
  258. VERSION #1 Sales Practices Investigation Report VERSION #2 An Investigation

    Into the Sales Practices of Wells Fargo
  259. VERSION #1 This company has a one- sentence unusual-expense policy.

    VERSION #2 This company has a one- sentence policy for unusual expenses.
  260. MAXIM 19 Avoid the “this” blob.

  261. VERSION #1 This makes me an expert in architecture. VERSION

    #2 These credentials make me an expert in architecture.
  262. VERSION #1 Lord Mormont was unable to convince the Hand

    of the King that the Wall needed more men. This was the subject of a bitter debate in the Small Council. VERSION #2 Lord Mormont was unable to convince the Hand of the King that the Wall needed more men. This failure was the subject of a bitter debate in the Small Council.
  263. MAXIM 19 Hyphenate compound phrases.

  264. VERSION #1 The orange juice salesman. VERSION #2 The orange-juice

    salesman.
  265. Find the Flubs

  266. SINGULAR SPACES VERSION #1 I love writing, but hate starting.

    The page is awfully white. VERSION #2 I love writing, but hate starting. The page is awfully white.
  267. VERSION #1 When you copy text from Wikipedia, don't forget

    to do this. VERSION #2 When you copy text from Wikipedia, don’t forget to do this.
  268. VERSION #1 Please choose among the blonde and the blond.

    VERSION #2 Please choose between the blonde and the blond.
  269. VERSION #1 toward VERSION #2 towards

  270. VERSION #1 in regard to VERSION #2 in regards to

  271. VERSION #1 backwards forwards afterwards VERSION #2 backward forward afterward

  272. VERSION #1 oftentimes VERSION #2 often

  273. VERSION #1 among VERSION #2 amongst

  274. VERSION #1 first VERSION #2 firstly

  275. VERSION #1 NASCAR’s main Facebook page has almost 4.5 million

    “likes.” VERSION #2 NASCAR’s main Facebook page has almost 4.5 million “likes”.
  276. VERSION #1 I think; therefore, I am. VERSION #2 I

    think; so, therefore, I am.
  277. VERSION #1 This book is dedicated to my parents, Beyoncé

    and Jay-Z. VERSION #2 This book is dedicated to my parents, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z.
  278. VERSION #1 CNN is doing a special report on my

    daughter, Ivanka. VERSION #2 CNN is doing a special report on my daughter Ivanka.
  279. VERSION #1 All the nurses are on call. VERSION #2

    All of the nurses are on call.
  280. VERSION #1 He makes the final call on whether or

    not to renew the contract. VERSION #2 He makes the final call on whether to renew the contract.
  281. VERSION #1 He wasn’t a saint. None of us is.

    VERSION #2 He wasn’t a saint. None of us are.
  282. VERSION #1 This is why China censors their Internet. VERSION

    #2 This is why China censors its Internet.
  283. VERSION #1 We should develop a series of partnerships with

    environmental nonprofits. VERSION #2 We should develop a series of strategic partnerships with environmental nonprofits.
  284. VERSION #1 If I was a rich man… VERSION #2

    If I were a rich man…
  285. VERSION #1 She’s active on many social media channels (e.g.,

    Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). VERSION #2 She’s active on many social media channels (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
  286. VERSION #1 We need someone who’s fun, insightful, and understands

    world events. VERSION #2 We need someone who’s fun, who’s insightful, and who understands world events.
  287. VERSION #1 There’s a ridiculous amount of cameos in the

    new Entourage movie. VERSION #2 There are a ridiculous amount of cameos in the new Entourage movie.
  288. VERSION #1 The Attorney Generals sued Google. VERSION #2 The

    Attorneys General sued Google.
  289. VERSION #1 The reason there was a new chief of

    staff is because the last one was ousted last week after a blistering attack from Scaramucci. VERSION #2 The reason there was a new chief of staff is the last one was ousted last week after a blistering attack from Scaramucci.
  290. #1 He earned plaudits for his management of the fiscal

    crisis that caused large cuts to the school’s endowment. #2 He earned plaudits for his management of the fiscal crisis which caused large cuts to the school’s endowment. #3 He earned plaudits for his management of the fiscal crisis, which caused large cuts to the school’s endowment.
  291. VERSION #1 Some Mexicans are calling 2018 “el ano de

    la mujer.” VERSION #2 Some Mexicans are calling 2018 “el año de la mujer.”
  292. Your Turn

  293. VERSION #1 There are some bloggers who seem to have

    a natural gift when it comes to writing. VERSION #2 Some bloggers are naturally gifted.
  294. VERSION #1 They manage to get their ideas across clearly

    and economically, which means that readers can easily follow what they write. VERSION #2 Readers devour their clear, economical prose.
  295. VERSION #1 Not only is there a lot of respect

    for what they have to say, but also the way that they say it. VERSION #2 Readers respect what they say — and love how they say it.
  296. VERSION #1 Whenever they publish a new post on their

    blog, it always gets dozens of comments and hundreds of shares. VERSION #2 Every post they publish goes viral.
  297. VERSION #1 It would be great to be as successful

    as they are, but you don’t know what you need to do to make your writing better. VERSION #2 You’d love to emulate their success but don’t know how.
  298. VERSION #1 The good news is that there’s a secret

    you can easily learn which will improve everything you write from now on. VERSION #2 A simple secret can transform your writing forever.
  299. APPENDIX Trim the fat.

  300. “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.” —William Strunk Jr.
  301. FAT LEAN at a later time later worked jointly together

    worked together at least 12 years of age or older at least 12 at this point in time at this point quality assurance purposes quality assurance on a monthly basis every month chief executive officer chief executive FILLER
  302. FAT LEAN She has a high level of intensity. She

    is intense. Editing is absolutely essential. Editing is essential. You’re going to have to edit your work. You must edit your work. Every single person should love editing. Every person should love editing. His story is a strange one. His story is stange. will plan in the future will plan level of coverage coverage FILLER
  303. FAT LEAN the question as to whether the question whether

    there is no doubt but that there’s no doubt that he is a man who he this is a subject that this subject on the grounds that because FILLER
  304. “The expression the fact that should be revised out of

    every sentence in which it occurs.” —William Strunk Jr.
  305. FAT LEAN due to the fact that because in spite

    of the fact that although call your attention to the fact that notify you “THE FACT THAT”
  306. FAT LEAN please RSVP RSVP personally, I I general public

    public general consensus consensus general rule of thumb rule of thumb 20-year anniversary 20th anniversary online website website REDUNDANCIES
  307. FAT LEAN shrug your shoulders shrug surrounded on all sides

    surrounded close proximity therefore so, therefore therefore past history history advance planning planning future plans plans REDUNDANCIES
  308. FAT LEAN ATM machine ATM PIN number PIN CAC card

    CAC basic necessities necessities final outcome outcome revert back revert summarize briefly summarize REDUNDANCIES
  309. FAT LEAN evolve over time evolve 12 midnight midnight 12

    noon noon 3 am in the morning 3 am a total of 14 birds 14 birds completely unanimous unanimous each and every each REDUNDANCIES
  310. FAT LEAN frank and honest exchange frank exchange REDUNDANCIES

  311. “Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non- committal language.”

    —William Strunk Jr.
  312. FAT LEAN really bad terrible really good great not that

    good lousy not surprised unsurprised very big huge extremely beautiful gorgeous supersmart brilliant W IM PY W ORDS
  313. FAT LEAN not able unable not certain unable not sure

    uncertain W IM PY W ORDS
  314. @JRick JonathanRick.com/ newsletter BusinessWriting Workshop.com