Style Chapter 6: Active Voice not Passive
vandanagoyal
Your writing should use active voice, as a general principle. It is more direct.

Lata sang a song at the concert is less wordy and more precise than A song was sung by Lata at the concert.

Besides, passive voice weakens the clarity of your writing as the reader can be unsure of what you mean.

Sometimes the context can be innocuous like after a long wait and suffering by the people, relief eventually arrived by air in flooded areas. It is difficult to say who sent the relief and how did it reach those who needed it.  In the context we know, it would have been more informative and direct to say Flood victims with no access to food and water waited for xx days before Air Force helicopters eventually air dropped relief packages.

Since passive voice obscures the actor, it weakens  the writing. Stephen King in his Work 'On Writing' suggests that use of passive verbs is cowardly as the writer is afraid of the responsibility an active doer will take. Consider the following passage from India Today :

"....  his recent claim that the government refused to negotiate with the terrorists in Mumbai. Later, when it was pointed out that the terrorists themselves were not looking for negotiations, Singh mumbled saying that he was going by what he had read in the papers. Well, he should know better."

It is not clear here who pointed out that terrorists were not 'looking for negotiations'. Was it the media or was it  a colleague? Singh's  answer is a sheepish mumbling and hence it would have been interesting to know who put him in the situation. The line and its speaker is open to interpretation and inference. Passive voice here has diluted the effect of the writing.

This version would have been more responsible

""...  his recent claim that the government refused to negotiate with the terrorists in Mumbai. Later, when it was pointed out by this reporter that the terrorists themselves were not looking for negotiations, Singh mumbled saying that he was going by what he had read in the papers. Well, he should know better."

Passive voice is grammatically correct and the issue is mostly only stylistic but it affects how the reader understands your argument. Ideas which are so clear to you have to be conveyed right to the reader.

Sometimes, however, passive voice is acceptable as the writer deliberately encourages the reader to make his own judgment about the doer or wants to keep him mysterious. For example A door was opened at the end of the corridor. The writer does not want to reveal the identity or even the gender of the opener. 

In general, active verbs are sure and firm whereas passive are vague and ineffective. She will learn will always be more emphatic and precise than It will be learnt.

Readers look for an active certainty and surety in your writing.

©2008 VisionIndia2047

Style Chapter 5: Honest Writing
vandanagoyal
One of the most important features of good writing is its honesty and trueness. The writing should be author's true voice.

Writing should be true to the subject, feelings and style. Choose a subject you care about. Then write with passion, accuracy and good language. Do not attempt to show more knowledge than you have. Best writing is about your feelings and passion for the subject.

At the same time it is very important to restrain your passion and not ramble. If you write while you are still bleeding and the tears flowing, the writing will be very raw. Famous English poet Wordsworth advised a would be poet " to let the sharp pain dwindle into a dull ache." Then you will remember only the important parts of your experience.

Show, don’t tell. Show your passion and knowledge, do not show them off. Honest writing suggests and states the facts without detailing the emotions it wants us to feel or drawing any conclusions for us. A great writer would simply show how a poor & hungry child is fighting with a dog for food without actually saying how hungry and desperate the child is.

Honest writing dares. Courage does not mean to mock and criticise others. The bravest are able to look within and self evaluate.

The writing style should be as unique to you as your fingerprints.You may take tips from writers whose writing you like but finally imbibe it all in your own style. Otherwise your writing will sound fake and hollow.

While you are revising your work, evaluate the heart of your writing. Does it reflect you and your feelings?

©2008 VisionIndia2047


Style Chapter 4: Analogies
vandanagoyal
 Using analogies in your writing can be very tricky.
They can make a difficult or abstract idea easier to understand. But if the example is not chosen well or the comparison is stretched too far, they can make the writing even more complicated and obscure.
Analogies should be used sparingly and only if you think they will help you communicate your idea better. Certain things should be kept in mind, however:
 
  • The example chosen should be sensible and sensitive. It should not offend anyone or any group of people.
  • Comparison should be drawn to situations the reader is likely to have experienced. For example if you ask the reader to think as a NASA scientist or as an aboriginal in Australia, it will not work. A good analogy should explain an unfamiliar subject by comparing it with a familiar one.
  • They should be short. Readers do not have too much patience.
  • They should only be used to launch or introduce the idea.  Continued comparisons can be irritating. Do not get carried away with your example.
  • They should never be used just to lend weight to the writing but only if they are genuinely needed.
  • They should be interesting, creative and fresh to capture the readers' imagination.
  • They can also be used to put humor in the writing. Like ,' A politician is like a banana : yellow in color, thick skinned and seldom straight.'

Stay away from cliched phrases for comparisons. They are dead and do not create any image in readers' mind.

Here is a comment on celebrity New York Times columnist Thomas Friedmans book World Is Flat by Matt Taibbi that should dissuade any writer from over indulgence in analogies.

©2008 VisionIndia2047


Style chapter 3: Right words, No clutter
vandanagoyal
Use less words instead of more. Use them with imagination but correctly to make an impact. Imagine the sound of your mind thinking. Then try to use the words your mind uses while thinking. You will realize there is no clutter in your thinking. Demonstrate that style in your writing. Writing is good when you sound like yourself. Make sure you have said what you mean to say clearly and precisely.
Language should not be ambiguous, repetitive or pretentious. Get rid of the clutter and streamline your writing.
 
There are many words which just make writing longer not better. They add nothing to the meaning. Replace them with precise expressions.
 
It is incorrect to use words like "absolutely necessary", "actual facts", "all time record" together because 'necessary' alone is enough, 'facts' alone means 'actual facts', 'record' is an 'all time record'.

Likewise, in the examples below, words in the brackets are redundant:

advance (forward)
(advance) planning
(added) bonus
(armed) gunman
ask (the question)
ATM (machine)
bald(-headed)
blend (together)
(brief) moment
(brief) summary
circulate (around)
compete (with each other)
(constantly) maintained
could (possibly)
crisis (situation)
curative (process)
(current) trend
(desirable) benefits
(different) kinds
each (and every)
earlier (in time)
eliminate (altogether)
emergency (situation)
(empty) hole
empty (out)
(empty) space
enclosed (herein)
(end) result
enter (in)
few (in number)
filled (to capacity)
(final) conclusion
(full) satisfaction
fuse (together)
(future) plans
green (in color)
grow (in size)
HIV (virus)
introduced (a new)
introduced (for the first time)
(joint) collaboration
lag (behind)
(local) residents
made (out) of
(major) breakthrough
(major) feat
(natural) instinct
never (before)
(new) beginning
(old) custom
(old) proverb
(past) history
(past) records
refer (back)
(safe) haven
small (size)
(small) speck
(still) persists
(still) remains
(sudden) impulse
(sum) total
surrounded (on all sides)
(total) destruction
(ultimate) goal
(very) unique
warn(in advance)
weather (conditions)
whether (or not)
 
In using simple words reader will see your respect for them and their time by putting thought and effort into the writing.

©2008 VisionIndia2047


Style Chapter 2: Clear Focus
vandanagoyal
 It is very important that your writing has a clear purpose. 
 
It is also good to tell the reader early on what you are going to write about. Thereafter, the Information should be given systematically and with clarity. 
 
The writing should not overwhelm the reader with too much information. Keeping in mind the length of your article,  you should avoid using superfluous words or information that will waste your space.
 
Focus, like in photography, should serve to sharpen the  scope of your writing  within the permissible word limit. Like a photographer find the target in the large view and focus on one object. There should be no confusion about what you intend to showcase. 
 
Irrelevant details distract from this focus. Statistical data should be given only to support the argument of your writing. 
 
Your writing should have one controlling idea. Readers expect that the writing will support this idea with  logical  information. 
 
You often come across articles where you have no idea what the author wants to say till you are half way through the piece. As an example, here is an article
Changing rules of dharma by Gurcharan Das, published on Times of India website. First two paragraphs of this article should have been deleted and this should have been the starting line "India is in the midst of a dire crisis and we don't seem to realise how much we are hurting." This is an example of how good thinkers and writers can lose impact without focus.
 
The first two paragraphs confuse the reader, they give no indication of and have no bearing on the rest of the article. Even though, both the top and the bottom half of the article give good information in themselves, they are not connected to each other. The first half does not talk about the things which are the focus of the main article. 
 
Most effective writing is like fine public speaking. Dale Carnegie said of good public speaking " tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have just told them." 
 
In your writing come to the point early, make the point, conclude and end the article.

©2008 VisionIndia2047

Style Chapter 1: Language
vandanagoyal
Clarity of thought will lead to clarity of language. You must be clear about what you want to say, what words to say it in, what image you will create to convey and if that image has the freshness to captivate the reader. Good examples and original analogies may help you get the reader's attention.

Your writing should have a clearly defined focus. It should be supported by specific information which should be connected and arranged well.

The words should be appropriate and language emphatic, concise and clear. Effort should not be to write longer or shorter words but the best words that describe your thoughts.

Your writing should have an honesty. A style put on to impress the reader always has the opposite effect.

Emphasise the important parts well.

Use active rather than passive voice.

Your writing should have both passion and control. Reader should feel that the writer has not written just for the sake of writing but because he actually feels about the subject.

Avoid long winded, compound sentences as they confuse the reader.

Avoid using legal words unnecessarily as they sound arrogant and pompous.

The writing should be edited ruthlessly. If key ideas appear more than once, decide where to keep them and delete or merge the rest of the text.

Hyperbole, cliches and archaic expressions make the writing stale, avoid them. Unnecessary words blunt the message and irrelevant long words just establish skills of linguistics not language.

As an example of what our style guide seeks, I refer to the following article recently published in the editorial section of HindustanTimes.com :
Enjoying the new year , By Manas Chakravarty,Consulting Editor, Mint

This 650 word piece of writing has everything that our style guide does not want. The article does not say anything that can not be said in less than 100 words. Content is poor and the author has the arrogance to presume that the common place things he did or saw have any interest for the reader.

It flaunts nearly every rule of good writing that I have mentioned in this chapter. The whole article is full of big words which seem to have been substituted for the more familiar ones, to make the writing appear more intellectual. The writing does not have clarity, purpose or relevance. Sentences are long and compounded. The author has no feeling for the subject and hence no conviction.

The article would not even have been worth analysing if it were not on the editorial page of HindustanTimes.com and written by an editor of a business newspaper.

©2008 VisionIndia2047


Vision India 2047 "Guide to Writing and Style" - Introduction
vandanagoyal
The Vision India 2047 "Guide to Writing and Style" is the standards that will define all writing accepted by us.
 
These emphasise correct, simple, fresh and informal writing.
 
Content of the writing is of primary importance but the language chosen to convey the idea should be simple and not a hash of slang, colloquialisms and foreign words. It would be good to keep a typical reader in mind while writing. It is good to assume he is intelligent but willing to be informed on the subject so long as you are able to win him over. Pomposity will put him off.
 
The writing style should be lucid and language should be used as a tool to build and express the idea. Content should not be used as a showcase for writer's knowledge of the language but the other way round. The writing should not strive to make the reader scramble to the dictionary but to touch him. Language should persuade and convert the reader. Words should be simple, appropriate and effective. Use fewest possible words to convey the meaning.
 
It is best to write in language that you think in. Submissions are also accepted in Hindi language.
 
Hindi and all the other Indian languages are rich, vibrant and very expressive. But they have no place in English writing. For example Baton should be used instead of Lathi. An army man should be a soldier and not a Jawan.
 
Grammar should be accurate. Only thoroughly proof read pieces must be submitted. Subject and verb should agree and there should be no double negatives. Apostrophes, commas, colons and semi colons, brackets, dashes and inverted commas should be used correctly and only when needed. Full stops, however, should be plentiful. Infinitives must never be split. There should be no repetitions and a paragraph break should be judged not by the length of text but by change of context.

Please also refer to: About "Guide to Style and Writing"

©2008 VisionIndia2047

Vision India 2047 - Guide to Writing and Style
vandanagoyal
I will be posting a "Guide to Writing and Style" for submissions on Vision India 2047 community here.
Its also available at http://vandanagoyal.livejournal.com/.

Vandana

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