Has it been a while since your last English writing course? Have you been wondering if grammar rules have changed? Wished you knew the acceptable use of jargon, fad, and cliché? Reading The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula LaRocque is a quick and easy way to review and hone your language arts skills.
Read its 240 pages and keep The Book on Writing handy next to your favourite writing spot. Refer to her book often and your writing skills will improve. Paula LaRocque successfully teaches and entertains using her thirty years’ of experience working with writers. She reminds you of that favourite professor whose class always filled up first.
Many need refresher courses because like Jacques Barzun’s quote that LaRocque uses: “Simple English is no one’s mother tongue. It has to be worked for.” Therefore, writers, readers, and all who use the English language should be fans of The Book on Writing. A quote LaRocque uses that surely emphasis this is by John Simon—“A person who misuses the language is as bereft of good taste as someone who picks his nose at a party.”
Writers in any genre — memo, letters, reports, press releases, feature, or story will benefit from Paula’s guidelines. The author explains in her introduction that her desire is to offer you something that would not only help you achieve accurate, clear, and brief informational writing, but that would also assist you in your creative work, whether fact or fiction. Did she succeed in doing this? Yes!
LaRocque was able to include the contents of a ‘how-to-write-better’ course in the three sections of her book entitled:
- A Dozen Guidelines to Good Writing
- Language and Writing Mechanics
Section 1 shows you how to make your writing clear, brief, precise, purposeful, warm, and interesting.
Section 2 deals with the creative elements of storytelling—how to build suspense and interest, how to use figurative language and imagery, words and sound, and pace.
Section 3 includes a clear, concise, and brief handbook on some of the problems in grammar, usage, punctuation, and style.
The author writes exactly like she preaches. She uses a variety of sentence length and a conversational, friendly tone sprinkled with humor. The smart use of questions keeps us thinking and looking with anticipation for her short, clear answers. To engage the reader even more, she invites you to play games like the one with buzz phrases. She has a lexicon of tricky word pairs and even a few fun quizzes. I loved her quiz in chapter 23 with common grammar and punctuation problems and the detailed explanations. Have problems with those pesky pronouns? LaRocque’s pronoun primer is the solution you need.
She gently guides you through each section and coaxes you along by starting each chapter with an appropriate, effective quote. One of my favorites is: “Words, when well chosen, have so great a force in them that a description often gives us more lively ideas than the sight of things themselves.” – Playwright Joseph Addison
LaRocque must have saved the best for almost last. Chapter 24, Dispelling the Myths, almost caught me cheering and wanting to high-five upon learning some of the common myths that have made my life, with English as a second language, so difficult at times. What are some common myths? ALL of the following, which say we should not:
- split infinitives or verb phrases
- end sentences with prepositions
- start sentences with and or but
- use contractions in “formal” communication
- use serial commas (a comma before and in a list)
- use none and couple as plural words
Are the many guidelines and tips in The Book on Writing easy to find for future reference? Absolutely! The titles of the 25 chapters are so descriptive that when searching for a quick refresher lesson on a certain topic it is very easy to find. The detailed index also makes this book an indispensable writing resource. The table of contents is just two pages with the sections and the chapters clearly laid out for a quick search.
So, have grammar rules changed? No! The author explains it so well: “…definitions are not like grammar, which changes very little if at all. Usage is not so much a matter of right and wrong as it is accepted and questionable. William Safire was correct when he said about word use: “When enough of us are wrong, we’re right.” Words finally must mean what most educated readers think they mean…”
To summarize Paula LaRocque’s guidelines: “Accuracy aside, simplicity, clarity, and brevity are the most important criteria for all writing.” So you want to write better? The Book on Writing is the book you need.
Excerpt from The Book of Writing:
“The two sentences below demonstrate the overall difference between the fuzzy,
abstract writing that we see too often in workplace communication, and the simple,
clear writing that serves both writer and reader. The first is the writer’s original
version, and the second is his revision, using the guidelines:
Original: Prompted in part by a new antismog law that is boosting business’ demand
for better service, a major reassessment that could lead to big changes in the county’s
public transportation system is beginning.
Rewritten, following the guidelines: Local leaders want to make it easier for county
residents to get around without their cars.
Those passages capture in a nutshell the goals of the following guidelines. Those
goals are not to “dumb down” our writing; they are to make it immediately clear,
meaningful, conversational, and inviting.”
From Paula’s website we learn: “Paula is one of America’s foremost writing coaches, is an author, editor, and communications consultant. She has conducted writing workshops for hundreds of media, government, academic, and business groups across the United States, Canada, and Europe.”
She taught writing at Western Michigan, Texas A&M, Southern Methodists, and Texas Christian universities. She has been a columnist for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Quill magazine for more than 20 years.
She’s author of three non-fiction books (Marion Street Press, Inc.):
- Championship Writing: 50 Ways to Improve Your Writing – December 2000 – collection of writing and language columns
- The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well – 2003
- On Words: Insight Into How Our Words Work—and Don’t – 2007 – collection of Paula’s print and radio commentaries
- Paperback: 254 pages
- Publisher: Grey and Guvnor Press (May 14, 2013)