"The Little Red Writing Book: 20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style & Readability," Brandon Royal

Pros: Stylish; helpful; concise; clear and readable
Cons: Dry
Rating: 4 out of 5

First posted 2/11/2005
Review book courtesy of F&W Publications

Writing has four pillars–structure, style, readability, and grammar–and each pillar is like the single leg of a sturdy chair.

Brandon Royal’s “The Little Red Writing Book: 20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style & Readability” isn’t aimed at professional writers, unless they need an extra brush-up or a reference to keep around for emergencies. It’s aimed at you, your co-workers, and the guy down the street who’s looking for a job.

There are five major parts to this book: structure, style, readability, grammar, and the appendices. All of these sections support one goal: helping people to write with precision and clarity. The examples aren’t taken from the Great American Novel or from philosophical treatises; they’re taken from resumes, college entrance essays, business memos, and so on. In other words, they’re meant to help you get through everyday writing needs. They’re meant to help you present yourself well in the real world of school and jobs.

Structure: Whether you need to learn about the top-down approach or transition words, you’ll find handy suggestions in the “Structure” section. Perhaps most interesting and useful is the section on the six basic writing structures, including charts and examples.

Two things you’ll find in every section are examples and exercises. The examples serve well to straighten out any confusion, and the exercises (to which you’ll find the answers in one of the appendices) make the lessons stick with you.

Style: Rules 6 through 15 out of 20 occupy the style chapter. Whether you need to learn to support what you say, personalize examples, use parallel forms, or choose an appropriate tone, you can get a handle on it here.

Readability: The readability section deals with interesting topics such as layout, design, headings, gender, and revision. Many of the techniques in this chapter are employed to great effect in this book–it makes ample use of design elements such as headings, lists and charts to create an eminently readable design. It’s hard to lose your place or get confused; clarity is one area where this book shines.

Grammar: In addition to the 20 rules of writing, this book includes 30 rules of grammar. The rest of the book is mildly dry; unfortunately this chapter is very dry. It’s difficult, although possible, to make grammar interesting; my favorite example of this in action is Stephen Wilbers’ Keys to Great Writing. This chapter does serve as excellent reference material for someone who occasionally has trouble keeping “further” and “farther” straight or knowing when to use reflexive pronouns.

Appendices: The appendices include an overview of the principles and rules that would act as a fantastic checklist when revising a piece of writing. Simply go through piece by piece and make sure you’ve followed all the guidelines.

A few additional notes: This is a remarkably stylish little book. It has a very “old world” feel to it, which is rather nifty considering this came out in 2004. It’s a small book with cream-colored pages decorated with old-style borders and images; a formal tone supports its traditional feel. It’s a neat approach, and I enjoyed it. However, the drawback is that it’s dry reading. This makes a much better reference book, or series of lessons learned one at a time on separate occasions, than it does study-book.

Also, as befits the tone but not the time period, there is no reference to how any of this relates to things such as writing for new media. In most cases it doesn’t matter; elements of structure, for example, don’t really change when you write for the web. Elements of readability, however, could have benefited from a discussion of how they relate to web pages or magazine articles as opposed to essays or job applications.

For a truly in-depth work to help you get the most out of your writing, I prefer Wilbers’ Keys to Great Writing. For a simpler reference work that’s easier to access at a moment’s notice, however, Royal’s “Little Red Writing Book” makes a great alternative.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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