Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Economist Style Guide: 9th Edition

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Utility: for anybody who wants to write English in a simple and an effective way.

Objective: The book aims to warn writers of some common mistakes and encourages them to write with clarity and simplicity. The recommendations are derived from the style used each week in writing and editing The Economist.

Arrangement: The Book is divided into 3 parts viz., The essence of style; American and British English and Useful Reference.

Part 1 – Essence of Style (a few eye-catchers represented below)

1. Avoid Metaphors, oratorical flourishes and foreign phrases (esp. Latin they are outdated)

2. Cut out unnecessary words (a separate chapter has been dedicated for this)

3. Avoid using phrases like surprise, surprise; guess what in the middle of a sentence.

4. Avoid beginning too many of your sentences with words like compare, expect, imagine, etc; readers will think they are reading a text book.

5. Avoid using terms like affordable housing (by whom?), these are advertising language.

6. Avoid euphemisms and circumlocutions used by interest group. Mobility impairment means wheel chair bound and underprivileged means poor people.

7. Don’t compare a fraction with a decimal. Eg:- don’t say inflation fell from 12.5% to 12 ¼ %.

8. Use active voice as much as possible

9. Avoid the use of former and later, more often than not it causes confusion.

10. A government, a party and a company always take a singular verb.

11. Countries take a singular verb, even if their names look plural. Eg:- The Philippines has its own Constitution.

12. The section on hyphens is very interesting.

13. Avoid Jargons; words and expressions that are ugly or overused [bottom line, major (unless something nearby is minor)]

14. Pristine means original or former; it does not mean clean.

15. A ship is feminine

16. Same is superfluous. If your sentence contains on the same day that, try on the day that.

17. The section on spelling is educative.

18. Avoid the habit of joining office and name like Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh

19. Avoid use of words like very because they add nothing but length to your prose. No need to say most probably and most especially, it is enough if you say probably and especially. There is no meaning for the word pre-prepared.

20. Which informs, that defines.

Part 2 – American and British English

I did not find it much useful and hence did not take the trouble of reading through it.

Part 3 – Useful Reference

This is a treasure house of information. This parts contains a list of abbreviations, business ratios, calendars, currencies, internet abbreviations, Latin terms, essentials of proofreading.

Had I found this book a decade ago, my writing would have been more refined but it is never too late to make a start. Only complain I have about this book it does not contain an exercise section or a CD wherein we could have refined our skills. That apart, this book is a must for all those who want to improve their written English. An online version of this book is available on The Economist website.

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