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Clear Business Writing For Editors: #SfEP2018 Workshop

Despite their facility with language, professional editors and proofreaders sometimes find it hard to translate their editorial skills into their own business writing.

Many editors are brilliant writers in their own right; hardly surprising given the close read-across between the disciplines. Still, editors – being editors – are also prone to insecurity about their writing: even some of the best, in my experience.

The workshop I led at the #SfEP2018 annual conference at Lancaster University aimed to give editors some guidelines and tools to improve their business writing confidence: whether they’re writing emails, letters, CVs, reports, reviews, summaries, websites, blogs, articles, policies or other documents.

Impact and engagement are at the heart of all business writing: we want to avoid our reader ‘swiping left’ on our content, sending it forever to the virtual dustbin. We want our writing to have an impact, an effect, to get someone to do something or think in a particular way. It’s not necessarily to educate or entertain. We have an objective, an aim, in every piece we write.

That’s what distinguishes business writing from other forms of writing. And we are actively trying to avoid disengagement as well as achieve more positive impact.

He Said It Himself: Pronouns Are Tricky

Pronouns in English are tricky – perhaps one of the trickiest things to get to grips with – and that applies to both native and non-native English writers.

It’s not so much the pure grammar, which is relatively straightforward. It’s the usage – when to and when not to – and how to ensure they fit into your sentence construction with clear meaning.

This blog looks at both – grammar and usage – and sets out simple guidelines to check against, especially when you’re editing or reviewing your own work.

A Capital Choice: The Joys and Nuances of Capitalisation

There are lots of good articles out there on capitalisation including this one by my friend and professional colleague Julian Maynard-Smith.

Why make room for another in the packed internet content stall?

The answer is that, of all the style conundrums, whether or not to capitalise is one of the trickiest and most intractable, especially in the grey areas.

And one that is evolving rapidly. Internet anyone? Only a short while ago capital ‘I’ was the norm: no longer.

So I have no shame adding the Prism-Clarity view to the capitalisation fray. There are so many idiosyncrasies that it might be empowering to know that we can in some circumstances even if others don’t or we feel we shouldn’t.

I will follow the approach I have used for other style conundrums: Always Never Sometimes.

Orwell’s Politics and the English Language: A Largely Non-linguistic Defence

There were many reasons to enjoy the annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) last September.

Hobnobbing with editorial mates and making new ones. Singing with the Linnets editorial choir. The opportunity to see two of my most admired writers on language speak on the same day. Oliver Kamm, “The Pedant” columnist in The Times and scourge of language sticklers everywhere. [“You at the back, Humphrys, concentrate!”] And Geoffrey Pullum, Professor of Linguistics at Edinburgh University, co-author of the best English grammar book there is, and evidence-based language realist and scientist beyond surpass.

At this point I have to make what amounts to a confession, in light of the previous paragraph.

I am one of millions who has enjoyed, been influenced by, read and re-read, quoted, referenced and taken to heart George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language. I even wrote my first Prism-Clarity blog on it. The same essay that Oliver and Geoff are on a conscious mission to debunk, rebut and vilify, on grounds of intellectual dishonesty, stylistic inconsistency and – on the linguistics front – naivety at best, incompetence at worst.

Hmmm. How to reconcile these conflicting life forces? Satan and God. Sun and rain. Oliver, Geoff and George.