Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Write Anything

by Laura Brown
W.W. Norton     2014
596 p.      Non-fiction
The Shortlist

Where was How to Write Anything when I was getting started as a self-taught freelance writer and editor? I had to purchase books on writing resumes, white papers, and research reports. In one volume, Brown has given us a guide to almost everything the average person will ever need to write. It will be an enormous help, and I am excited to include it on my shelf. But, it is also a great guide for anyone who writes anything. Should be in most every home.

Just think for a moment. What are the writing tasks that confuse you the most? Resumes and cover letters, for certain, as well as business letters, email messages, condolence letters, and college entrance essays. Brown covers them all and much more. She includes the problems, pitfalls, and possibilities of communicating in the 21st century, including instant messaging, emails, and tweeting. 

The book is divided in three sections: personal writing, school writing, and professional/business writing. However, Brown recommends the same 6 steps for each endeavor. They are:
  • determine the purpose for the writing.
  • determine who the audience or the readers are
  • brainstorm ideas
  • organize thoughts and idea
  • do a final draft
  • revise, revise, revise.
To that, I would add one other step. Read it aloud. Here is what I have learned about reading something aloud. First, when you read it aloud, you don't miss mistakes that got overlooked with the spell or grammar checker on your word processor. Second, if you read it aloud, you will catch run-on sentences and things that just plain sound stupid. Third, you may catch misused words. Somehow reading a document aloud makes it sound like a different voice than your voice. Finally, if this really is an important document, have someone else read it aloud. They will most likely catch anything that you may have missed.

I really like the format and the comprehensive nature of How to Write Anything. I wish that my international clients each had a copy because I am constantly being asked to write an email to a professor or a cover letter to go with a resume. Kudos to Laura Brown for putting together such an easily accessible volume.

The website for the book:

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