Clear & Concise: Become a Better Business Writer - Book Review

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Whether it's an email or a report, review findings or a website, any piece of business writing depends on readability for success.

Wordiness, ambiguity and repetition distract from the message and prevent it being understood quickly and easily - and clarity is the key to effective business writing.

Clear and_concise_coverSusan McKerihan has clocked up two decades as a plain English specialist and consultant in effective business writing. She has a Masters in Applied Linguistics and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (both from the University of Sydney), and plain English luminaries as teachers - Martin Cutts, Elizabeth Manning Murphy and the late Professor Robert Eagleson, whose definition of plain English appears on the US government website www.plainlanguage.gov as follows:

Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction. It is not baby talk, nor is it a simplified version of the English language. Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. They make sure that their audience understands the message easily.

The book's four main sections begin with the building blocks of clear, concise language, with five chapters on word choices and four on structuring sentences.

'Grammar basics' looks at enhancing readability by choosing punctuation with care - commas, colons and semicolons, dashes (excellent hyphenation guidelines!) - as well as subject-verb agreement and which/that usage.

'The big picture' deals with using a top-down structure, highlighting key messages and designing layout.

Finally, four chapters of quick guides deal with matters from a miscellany of FAQs to grammatical terms to a plain English wordfinder. Three pages of sources and further reading point towards print and online resources for plain English, grammar, layout and design, style and usage guides, and the English language.

McKerihan was a member of the review panel for the Style manual (6th edition, Wiley) - if you're like the many finding that 2002 volume a trifle outdated, you'll find some useful updates on Australian usage in Clear & Concise. Plenty of examples and exercises illustrate throughout.

This slim volume packs plenty into 182 pages. I'll add it to my reference library for the usage updates alone, and recommend it to any professional who works in publishing or needs to put their ideas into writing.

Jackey Coyle

Susan McKerihan, Clear & Concise: Become a Better Business Writer, Black Inc., 2015, RRP $24.99