Table of Contents

Review of Books on Green Buildings – Part 18

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Plain English at Work: A Guide to Writing and Speaking

(by Edward P. Bailey)

Chapter 1: The New Way to Write

Outline:

  1. What is plain English writing?
  2. Style: reading a readable sentence
  3. Organization: getting to the point
  4. Layout: adding visual impact
  5. A model for writing

Summary:

The author espouses plain English writing which he means “writing that is easy to read and write and which expresses a range of simple to complex ideas.” He contradicts the overly formal English style which, according to the author, is very rigid and impressionable but fails to convey the message of the speaker. The author extensively teaches simple English and urges writers to do so because it is very easier and it is better, too. We have very complicated writing structures nowadays and this is illustrated in the business texts. The author admonishes straightforward writing as better.

Plain English means simply expressing one’s ideas in writing and in speaking. It applies to simple and convoluted writing as it expresses clear ideas. Plain English has three parts:

  1. Style – it basically means readable and clear sentences. To make a metaphor out of it, the author says it means writing more than talking.
  2. Organization – mean writing the main argument first and foremost and most of the time. It does not have to be the initial sentence but this means that the main ideas are easily seen as the start.
  3. Layout – refers to the pages’ appearance with the writer’s words on it. Headings, bullets, and other techniques of clear, white spaces make it very visible to the reader. The value of the writing is focused by layout.

Chapter 2: More About Style

Outline:

  1. Passive voice
  2. Abstractness
  3. Punctuation

Summary:

There are three basic features of a passive voice. They are in the form of the verb to be such as is, am, was, were, be, been, or being. They are also in the form of a past participle (i.e. kept, accepted, etc. They also have a prepositional phrase starting with by (sometimes used). However, it is much better to often use the active or the direct voice. (The author warns of being too direct.)

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In the aspect of punctuations, Bailey wrote that most skilled writers punctuate differently than majority of the amateurs writers. Amateurs often limit themselves to commas and periods while professionals utilize all the marks and use them in various ways. To punctuate excellently means giving your writing two crucial benefits:

  • It helps the audience to successfully read through your sentences in a way that they will clearly comprehend the writing piece.
  • It shows the audience what the writer wants to stress.

As stated, punctuations are significant. There are specific rules to punctuating. Punctuations are not just simple commas, apostrophe’s and periods. They have a special part in the structure of the sentence. For instance, the colon is a very commonly used mark. It often comes after a sufficient sentence.

Some rules exemplified in the book for commas, dash and semi colons include:

Rule 1: The writer must use a colon after a complete sentence to direct the reader to the words, clauses or phrases which he/she wants to stress.

Rule 2: He/she must use a colon after a complete sentence to direct the reader to an inter-related sentence.

Rule 3: A writer must use a dash after a complete sentence to stress a word, clause or phrase or another sentence.

Rule 4: He/she must use a dash to emphasize something in the middle of a sentence.

Rule 5: He/she must use a semicolon to divide two linked sentences.

Chapter 3: More About Organization

Outline:

  1. Blueprint
  2. Executive summary

Summary:

The author suggests emphatically that writers must put his main idea at the beginning of the sentence or the article. If not, it must be written at the first part of the article to reduce confusing the main ideas or avoid getting the readers redirected within the writing. In terms of presentation, this means that the first or the first few slides contain the main idea/s or what the speaker will talk about and why he/she thinks it is worth talking about.

The speaker must have a blueprint slide which contains the flow of the discussion. It shows the various parts of the presentation. A blueprint slide must:

  • have a remarkably different design compared to the main body slides. This must be instantly identifiable as this will be repeated all throughout the presentation.
  • not include the same title features of the body slides (in order to make it look different).
  • share several design elements with the cover and body slides.
  • Not have a long list. This implies that the presentation must not be lengthy or at least five parts only.

The blueprint slide should be in the final slide in the speaker’s introduction. It names the different parts of the body of the presentation.

Chapter 4: More on Layouts

Outline:

  1. Typefaces
  2. Headings
  3. Bullets
  4. Graphics

Summary:

In the layout, the writer must use a list; a heading and other blank space so that the audience can see the writing structure. The author justified this with the proven technique of plain English of making reading easy for the audience. (This is also easier for the writer, according to Bailey.)


Good layout means that the readers can view the written document's structure. It also means that the documents are professionally written and laid out. For the bottom line, the author suggests that writers use shorter paragraphs. They should also start with a particularly short paragraph. They must also use unintended paragraphs. Interestingly, Bailey encourages a one sentence paragraph. He defends that most professional writers do this. For business writing, he particularly suggests that writers avoid indenting the initial line of paragraphs. It is also suggested that paragraphs be a block.

The bottom line of this chapter is that writers must use headings as much as possible. They also must use a bold, sans serif font such as Arial. Writers must place more space above the heading than below it. Writers are also encouraged to consider a "down style" heading. When a writer has a list to be enumerated, Bailey proposes the bullets. He/she must also have a good style of writing and must utilize good spacing.

There is no particular standard for punctuations and capitalization when one has a list. There are some standards, of course, for some companies which they internally follow. Bailey suggests using capital letters at the beginning of a bulleted sentence if this is a complete sentence. If not, he suggests not to capitalize neither put a period at its end. When one starts with a complete sentence, then all the bulleted items must be paralleled or it must be in full sentences as well. Bailey also suggests a typeface like Arial for one’s body texts. A twelve-point size is also ideal. The standard typesetting conventions should also be followed.

Chapter 5: Final Words on Writing

Outline:

  1. The writing process
  2. Supervising writers

Summary:

The author said that the common writing process consists of the three steps:

  1. Pre writing – when the writer thinks hard and draws out his writing outline.
  2. Writing – when the writer starts to comply with his outline and quickly writes.
  3. Rewriting – when the writer complies with his outline and make revisions.

This is not the process which Bailey affirms. He reasons that if one writer is working for just one page, he will not contend with an outline anymore. An outline is just helpful for something which is longer. Thus, he recommends writing down the major headings with no thought of an outline itself. The writer can also try writing down the ideas of a longer writing piece with the order in his mind. Then, he must proceed with his writing.

Bailey describes how he practices writing and his steps include:

  1. Making himself believe that he is already into writing the piece.
  2. Getting himself deeply into his writing.
  3. Jotting down what ideas he want to write about, making sub points under the more general ideas, if he wants to.
  4. Arranging his points of ideas in his best order.
  5. Following his writing more than complying with his original outline.
  6. Instantly re-outlining when he gets stuck with his writing.
  7. Writing quickly with no little qualms about making typo or any error.
  8. Ceasing to write if the content or organization is not flowing.
  9. Reading and revising after finishing the article or presentation.
  10. Disconnecting from the writing and doing away with it for a while.
  11. Then re reading and revising for the second time around, minding the typos and errors and most especially, the organization, style and layout.
  12. Showing the writing to someone else for feedback. Leaning towards other people’s suggestion.

Chapter 6: Designing Your Presentation

Outline:

  1. Designing a successful presentation
  2. Organizing your presentation
  3. Using examples
  4. Remembering what to say
  5. Choosing visual aids
  6. Designing visual aids
  7. Designing visual aids – further tips
  8. Designing computer presentations
  9. Involving your audience and using humor
  10. Rehearsing

Summary:

In this chapter, Bailey gives out rich and practical advice for presentations including: remembering your talk; designing your visual aids and computer presentations, etc. He suggests the following:

  • Largest types size for the cover slide
  • Putting subtitles and one’s personal details after the subtitle
  • Keeping an explanation slide for those items or ideas unfamiliar in the cover slide
  • Maintaining a uniform look and style of texts
  • Having a purpose slide to explain the purpose of the presentation
  • This must be a single word or sentence not a list
  • Should include the writer’s most important recommendation or conclusion
  • The blueprint slide should list all the parts of the presentation
  • This should guide the readers or audience on how the speaker must go about the presentation
  • The body slides should use the standard twelve size and certified font
  • Use of images more than words
  • Use of blank spaces

Chapter 7: Giving Your Presentation

Outline:

  1. Setting up the room
  2. Using effective techniques of delivery
  3. Presenting visual aids
  4. Handling questions and answers

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Summary:

This chapter includes how a speaker must set up the room where he is going to present and developing a successful style of delivery. Bailey emphasizes the importance of public speaking. It is important for every professional to be able to deliver a smart presentation. This chapter provides a modest but concise and thorough, user friendly handbook that has everything to ensure a successful presentation.

According to the author, the design stage is crucial. He gives an illustration of how to design a speech for major with the use of a "blueprint" and lucid transitions that keep the audience attentive. He also used examples to illustrate how abstraction can make one presentation dull. The practical advice on checking the room includes checking if the projector works fine, using a pointer, and if the room temperature and microphones work well. Bailey also provides a solid advice on rehearsing a presentation, breaking the ice with the audience, designing visual aids, and handling question-and-answer portions.

Chapter 8: Final Word on Speaking

Outline:

  1. Helping others speak better

Summary:

Bailey has several tips for speakers and these include the following:

  • Accepting all the criticism and learning from it
  • Reading one’s presentation over and over until he perfects it
  • Presenting to a trusted person first
  • Living with passion
  • Being curious, open, engaged, and alert
  • Learning a new word daily
  • Writing in different genres such as poetry, blogs, essays, short stories, etc.
  • Reading grammar books
  • Challenging one’s self
  • Taking a trip and watching movies
  • Writing and rewriting and writing some more
  • Reading, thinking, reading, writing, contemplating, and then writing again
  • Talking to other people
  • Listening to how others talk
  • Reading thousands of books
  • Jotting down of one’s fleeting moments or ideas
  • Listening to podcasts on writing and presentation tips
  • Writing before the deadline and not writing to beat the deadline
  • Using declarative and simple sentences when writing
  • Avoiding the passive voice
  • Reducing the use of adjectives and adverbs
  • Cutting out of sentences
  • Cutting out clunky sentences
  • Getting inspired by other art forms such as music, videos, architecture, etc.
  • Reading one’s old writings and acknowledging one’s development as a writer
  • Writing for publication
  • Prioritizing writing in the morning
  • Keep on writing even when uninspired
  • Telling others that you are a writer
  • Recognizing one’s fears and trying to overcome it
  • Trying new ideas or hobbies, making a variety of life activities

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