This “new to me” book will be fun to try this fall
A year or two ago, I found an effective paragraph that explained sentence variety perfectly. Read the post about it here. I dug a little deeper about the author and eventually made my way to this book, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost. Gary Provost was an author and writing instructor who died in 1995 right in the middle of his career. In addition to his own books and articles, he produced a series of how-to writing books and seminars.
I ordered 100 Ways from Amazon last week and, after skimming through it, know I’ll be able to use several chapters in my language arts classes next year. I hope these short readings and the discussions they spark will make great mini-lessons to kick off a writing work day.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. Here are a few of them followed by one or two points discussed within each:
- Five Ways to Write a Strong Beginning (Find a Slant, Set a Tone and Maintain It)
- Twelve Ways to Give Your Words Power (Use Active Verbs, Be Specific, Use Statistics)
- Ten Ways to Avoid Grammatical Errors (Do Not Change Tenses, Avoid Dangling Modifiers)
- Six Ways to Avoid Punctuation Errors (How to Use Colons, Semicolons, Quotation Marks)
- Twelve Ways to Avoid Making Your Reader Hate You (Avoid Clichés, Avoid Parentheses)
- Seven Ways to Edit Yourself (Read Your Work Out Loud, Use Common Sense)
- Nine Ways to Save Time and Energy (Use Transitions, Avoid Wordiness)
While the 158-page book deals with more technical topics, such as punctuation and grammar, the author also discusses the finer, more esoteric qualities of good writing. For example, in “Stop Writing When You Get to the End,” Provost writes,
When you have done what you came to do, stop. Do not linger at the door saying good-bye sixteen times.
How do you know when you have finished? Look at the last sentence and ask yourself, “What does the reader lose if I cross it out?” If the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know,” then cross it out. Do the same thing with the next to last sentence, and so forth. When you get to the sentence that you must have, read it out loud. Is it a good closing sentence? Does it sound final? Is it pleasant to the ear? Does it leave the reader in the mood you intended? If so, you are done. If not, rewrite it so that it does. Then stop writing.
I like the tone of Provost’s writing. Concise. Clear. Practical. Warm. It’s an easy, friendly read, and has its share of funny writing snippets.
In addition, many chapters contain side-by-side examples of ineffective and effective writing. For instance, in the chapter entitled “Be Specific,” several examples of general and vague writing appear on the left-hand side across from their more specific counterpart on the right-hand side. Here’s one: The general “Various ethnic groups have settled in Worcester,” is shown alongside its more specific “Greeks, Italians, and Puerto Ricans have settled in Worcester.”
The book has a copyright date of 1972, so some of the examples used are outdated. I’ll just explain this to the kids, or pause while we read to explain obsolete terms. One I noticed was “word processing.” That term just isn’t used much anymore.
Some of the chapters overlap with existing lessons I already use; however, it never hurts to review the same concepts in different ways. This book will enable me to do that.
Check out this book by buying a single copy. I purchased a used copy on Amazon for about five dollars. That’s an inexpensive price for a potentially valuable new resource. Maybe a class set will be in my future.