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Personality Development:  Improve Your Writing Skills

 

-By PK Arya

 

Get down to the business of writing skills and see the improvement in your overall personality. The ability to communicate clearly in writing is one of the "most important skills you will ever master. It will help you to get your ideas across effectively and to get the results you want in your business and personal life. There is no mystery to good writing skill -it is a skill you can learn.

There are a few executives who have rare kind of secretary who can take care of all sorts of correspondence with no more than a quick memorandum to work from. But for most of us, if there is any writing to be done, we have to do it ourselves.

Jawaharlal Nehru made a name for himself as a seasoned politician but it was said of him that he would have made a bigger dent on the minds of the people as a writer.

We have to write papers (book reports, term papers, college applications), business papers (memos, reports, letters of inquiry, letters of adjustment), home papers, invitations etc. We are constantly called on to put words to paper. It would be difficult to count the number of such words, messages, letters, and reports put into the mails or delivered by hand, but the daily figure must be enormous.

Be brief

"THAT writer does the most, who gives the reader the most information, and takes from him the least time", wrote Charles C. Colton. This is an observation which everyone who writes should com­mit to heart, an observation to post above the desk of "every businessman who dic­tates a memo, of every housewife who pens a letter, and of every student who writes out a term-paper.

The purpose of writing is to communicate:

A thought, an idea, a sentiment, a fact. The more concrete and concise these elements in a communication, the more precise, the more rewarding they are to the reader. "Brevity is the soul of wit", said Shakespeare. This maxim warrants re­membering, along with Mr. Colton's ad­monition, that we demand the least time from our readers.

Clear and Complete

On the other hand, nothing can be more irritating and sometimes frustrating than the omission of essential detail Suppose, for example, the shirts you manufacture come in several styles, colors and sizes, but the order you have received in the mail gives no specifica­tions, or you are driving to visit a friend in the country and you come to a fork in a country lane; you consult the map he has sent you and he has omitted both the fork and the road you are to take.

Someone writes down a telephone message from your out-of-town friends, telling you they're going to be in the city and will drop in to see you; but the message contains no date, no time and nothing to indicate whether they are coming alone or with their children. And there are the instructions for setting up your hi-fi tape recorder which take for granted that you know what a "patch cord" is.

There is virtue in brevity, but you must never assume that your reader is as expert or as knowledgeable as you are about whatever it is you are writing. Brev­ity is not an excuse for lack of clarity. And clarity, above all, is essential to what you have to say on paper.

Certainly you want to avoid stiffness and rigidity in your writing (even when you send off an angry letter to the man­ager of your local cinema). At the same time, you wouldn't write a report on the market conditions in the "chummy" manner of a letter to a cousin or a college room­mate who has just become president of an organization.

Lively Language

There has been more pretentious non sense written and spoken about style than about any other literary subject. As a result, half the unpracticed writers assume an unnatural pomposity when they settle down to composition, three-eighths of them are intimidated, and only the one eighth left over are independent enough to forget about style and write naturally

Just as you have your own way of wearing your clothes or drinking soup, so you have your own individual way of expressing yourself.

This does not mean that your natural way cannot be improved. Just as it is kind to tell a man who sucks up his soup nois­ily that his social acceptability will be enhanced by applying the silencer, so it is necessary for an inexperienced writer to be told what errors or ill-manners in writ­ing to avoid.

Any writing interlarded plentifully with "goshes" and dashes and exclama­tion marks, for example, grates on the reader, and is therefore bad manners.

Any writing in which nouns are habitually qualified by two or more adjectives is too wordy and unlikely to express any meaning with precision.

There are certain basic rules of good writing which are almost universal in their application, and within the frame­work of which it is possible for writers of the most diverse gifts and styles to express themselves with individuality.

The main five rules are:

Prefer the short word to the long; Prefer the concrete word to the abstract word; Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance; Prefer the short sentence to the long; Use no word which does not directly contribute towards the sense you wish to convey.

Prefer the short word to the long:

The short word is gen­erally better because it expresses your meaning more quickly and certainly. A deliberate search for short words leads to incisiveness in writing. How much better to say: "I couldn't come because it was raining", than "My attendance was rendered impos­sible by adverse meteorological conditions."

Prefer the concrete word to the abstract word:

In most writing it is possible to choose between concrete and abstract words. If you are:' writing about ideas, which are abstractions, you naturally have to use abstract words, but there is a deplorable tendency among many people to use vague abstract words where short concrete words would be better.

Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance:

The Saxon word is what is bred in the bone; it is racy, idiomatic and direct.

The Romance word is the genteelism assumed by Frenchified Englishmen. But good English writers still prefer, "wood" to "timber", "sail" to "navigate", "walk" to "ambulate", "sickness" to "invalidity".

The English language has been immensely enriched by words from other languages, and it would be both impracti­cable and foolish to hamstring your writing by turning a recommendation into a hard and fast rule. Use your commonsense-but avoid pretensions.

Prefer the short: Sentence to the long: Here again commonsense must be used. A succession of short sentences can be choppy. A succession of long sentences sends your readers to sleep. The best arrangement is a nice balance of short and long sentences, with a general preference for the short.

Use no word that does not directly contribute towards the sense:

It is astonishing how many "passenger" words you will find in print. They contribute heavily to dullness. A good writer is like a marksman: he fires one shot from his rifle and hits the mark, or near it. The indifferent writer blazes away both barrels of a shot-gun, hoping that the "spread" will make  up for his lack of accuracy.

In short, know what you want to say, and say it in the fewest words than can be used without baldness. The voluble are seldom really articulate. Precision of meaning is lost in the verbiage.