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These Books Will Help You To Write

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Archives / 1955 / February



These Books Will Help You To Write

Donn Thomas

DONN THOMAS, Secretary, General Conference Bureau of Public Relations


One day I received from a friend some definitions of public relations on a mim­eographed sheet. One of these intrigued me because I couldn't understand it. I got out my dictionary and began substituting words and it made less sense than before.

Right then I decided that: (1) my intelli­gence, though perhaps only average, was still holding its own; (2) the writer of the definition, who should have been an expert in such things, was falling down in his communications.

Much of the reading we do, or try to do, be­comes an unhappy experience for one of two reasons. The writer has nothing to say and takes endless words to say it. When this hap­pens you give up in sheer boredom after the third paragraph. Or the writer really has some­thing to say but he tangles it up with such a flurry of ill-chosen words and long sentences that you can't understand it.

Countless good books have been written to help the person who wants to write. Only a few can be reviewed here and these are by no means the only volumes at the top of the list.

The Art of Readable Writing, Rudolf Flesch, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1949.

"I think it is fair to say Rudolf Flesch's ideas have played a major part in lifting writing habits out of some of their oldest ruts." declares Alan J. Gould, Associated Press executive editor. It was Rudolf Flesch who spent many months analyzing AP copy to determine how this great wire service's news could be made more under­standable to newspaper readers.

There isn't a dull phrase in the entire volume, which is exactly what you might expect from a man called by Time magazine "Mr. Fix-It of Writing." This is all the more remarkable since the book was written not to entertain but to instruct.

Christians will rightly wince at a couple of blasphemous passages from other authors, but the book is worth reading and keeping even if you must tear out the offending pages.

If ever there was an all-purpose volume for pen-clutching Adventist writers, this is it. What the author says will help you to write letters as well as articles for denominational publica­tions. For instance, Dr. Flesch discusses this sentence: "The Company encourages the con­tinued education of staff members of all ranks to supplement the practical training and experi­ence acquired during office hours."

Now let's use the dictionary, he says, to get some simpler words for encourage, continue, and supplement, and acquire. And he comes up with this: "We urge you to keep up your education and add to the practical training and experience you get during office hours."

Any minister writing for publication would do well to heed his advice given in chapter six:

"Almost all reading matter in this country gets off to a false start. . . . What is a false start? It's a beginning that doesn't do what a beginning ought to do . . you must put your reader in the right frame of mind; you must start by getting him inter­ested in what's going to come. Look around you and you'll find that most reading matter doesn't start that way. It usually starts in routine fashion —with a stale, humdrum opening that does any­thing but whet your appetite for the main dish."

Probably the best indication of what Dr. Flesch is trying to put over (and I have just dropped the word accomplish in favor of put over) is found in the last paragraph of his book:

"In one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's election cam­paigns, Frances Perkins prepared for him a speech on social security. One section she summed up by saying: 'We are trying to construct a more inclusive society.' But when Roosevelt delivered the speech, what he said was this: 'We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.'"

Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Peter Mark Roget, Grosset and Dunlap.

Dr. Flesch recommends the dictionary over the Thesaurus in finding apt synonyms. Nevertheless, most good writers have Roget's thick volume on their shelves.

This unique book began in the mind of Dr. Roget early in the nineteenth century when he decided that words ought to be classified ac­cording to the ideas they express. His first draft was completed in 1805, but the original edition was not published in London until 1853.

The average writer, struggling for a word or phrase, eases out of his dilemma by turning to the index of his Thesaurus.

Suppose you're looking for a substitute for the word press. You'll find in the index under this word various numbered categories such as crowd, closet, weight, and others. You'll even find common expressions in which this word is used, such as go to press, press of business, press of service.

Let's assume that you're writing about Zac­chaeus. For you the word press has a crowd con­notation. The number in the index after crowd is 72, so you turn to number 72 classification and find a long list of synonyms—nouns, verbs, and adjectives—and related words and phrases. All this is in a column on the left side of the page. To give you some additional help, which you didn't ask for, are antonym words and phrases down the right side of the page.

Counsels to Writers and Editors, Ellen G. White, Southern Publishing Association.

The library of every Adventist writer should have this little red volume. Here is the final word in the approach to be made by our writers.

The prime objective of our publications is to exalt God, to call men's attention to the truth of His Word, declares the inspired author. She calls for earnestness in presentation of sub­ject matter, yet points out that Adventist articles must be practical as well as elevating.

The need for clarity of style is stressed. In a message to one brother, she urges him to culti­vate ease and simplicity in his writings. "Even the most essential, manifest truths, those which are of themselves clear and plain, may be so covered up with words as to be made cloudy and indistinct."

Finally she emphasizes the ideal philosophy underlying all Adventist writing: Avoid un-

kind jibes and careless statements. "We should not go out of our way to make hard thrusts at the Catholics." Nor should our writers express antagonism for governments and law. Present the truth with gentleness, she counsels.

Interpreting the Church Through Press and Radio, Roland E. Wolseley, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1951.

Backed by twenty-six years of practical ex­perience, the Syracuse University professor of journalism expresses this conviction: "Every­thing the church does, everything it stands for, and every part of it is a subject for interpreta­tion." Since interpretation depends in a large degree on written words, there is many a helpful hint in this volume for the writing minister, even if his writing is limited.

The author plunges in by telling you how to organize your church for public relations, in­ternal and external. He discusses the use of various media—newspapers, radio, and televi­sion. He roams the expanse of church publicity possibilities, all the way from bulletins to blot­ters.

Later chapters of the book get down to the business of writing techniques. The author in turn tells the minister how to be a reporter, feature and article writer, advertising man, and editor. Presumably the average Adventist pas­tor, already bustling with Ingathering drives and magazine campaigns, will not try to master all of these skills. At the very least the volume should indicate to him that there are some things he should not expect to do well without sufficient training.

The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Ver­sion.

We read the Bible for its flashes of divine instruction. Not many read it as a stylebook for writing, yet every writer can learn a lesson from its style. Try analyzing how it is said in the Holy Scriptures as well as what is said.

One of the big faults with amateur writers is that they try too hard. They use long words and sentences where short ones would make the meaning more clear. And to make a really good job of fogging the meaning they add a lot of frilly adjectives and adverbs.

Much of the writing of both Old and New Testaments is wonderfully simple. Consider the first sentence of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." And where will you find more ideas and meaning packed into such a few carefully chosen words than in the first verse of chapter three in the first epistle of John: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."

I am always delighted with the words that tell us of Abram's departure from Haran: "And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came." Here is brevity with unmistakable finality. Here is purpose and suspense all wrapped up in the first few words, then suddenly the assurance that the caravan has reached its destination.

Few modern writers, of course, will want to whittle words so sharply, yet reading the Bible with this in mind may well be an aid to those who use more words than they need.

How to Write for Pleasure and Profit, edited by Warren Bower, J. B. Lippincott Company, New York, 1950.

In nearly 700 pages just about every type of writing is covered by experts in various fields. Some chapters like "Advice to Unpublished Novelists" and "The Writing of Mystery Fic­tion" probably won't interest Adventist min­isters. But there are other areas which contain helpful hints for our pastors.

Certainly you will want to digest the chap­ters on newspaper writing and advertising and you'll probably want to browse through the chapter on "How to Write Business Letters." "Basic Principles of Good Writing" should be read carefully.

This volume is filled with information, com­ing from such men as William A. H. Birnie, editor of The Woman's Home Companion, and I. D. Robbins, New York public relations counsel.

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