Whilst teaching on this reminiscence writing course at the University of Hull (c1998), I was delighted to come across the following (old-fashioned) book by GRAVES, Robert & HODGE, Alan. 1943. Book. THE READER OVER YOUR SHOULDER: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. LONDON. Jonathan Cape. Chapters 5-8.
I felt as if I had stumbled into an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure about writing in English. The fact that this book was published in 1943 (in the midst of the Second World War) did not matter. I found a variety of wonderful gemstones that I was eager to pass on to my students [and now you as a web reader]. I have, therefore, great pleasure in presenting you with my teaching notes from Graves & Hodge and their advice regarding good writing.
They do so under the two headings of Clarity and Grace. I love this emphasis (and the title of their book) because it places the READER at the heart of all writing – they are first and foremost. Do not rush-read these principles. Read each slowly and, after the full-stop, think about each instruction deeply and how you can put into practice with your writing.
CLARITY OF STATEMENT (25 principles)
1. Who? It should always be made clear who is addressing whom, and on the subject of whom.
2. Which? It should always be made clear which of two or more things already mentioned is being discussed.
3. What? Every unfamiliar subject or concept should be clearly defined; and neither discussed as if the reader knew all about it already nor stylistically disguised.
4. Where? There should never be any doubt left as to where something happened or is expected to happen.
5. When? There should never be any doubt left as to when.
6. How much? There should never be any doubt left as to how much or how long.
7. How many? There should never be any doubt left as to how many.
8. Inappropriate word or phrase. Every word or phrase should be appropriate to its context.
9. Ambiguous word or phrase. No word or phrase should be ambiguous.
10. Misplaced word or phrase. Every word or phrase should be in its right place in the sentence.
11. Unintentional contrast. No unintentional contrast between two ideas should be allowed to suggest itself.
12. Duplication. Unless for rhetorical emphasis, or necessary recapitulation, no idea should be presented more than once in the same prose passage.
13. Self-evident statement. No statement should be self-evident.
14. Material omission. No important detail should be omitted from any phrase, sentence or paragraph.
15. Unfulfilled promise. No phrase should be allowed to raise expectations that are not fulfilled. Avoid ‘dangling modifiers’.
16. Undeveloped theme. No theme should be suddenly abandoned.
17. Faulty connexion. Sentences and paragraphs should be linked together logically and intelligibly.
18. Mis-punctuation. Punctuation should be consistent and should denote quality of connexion, rather than length of pause, between sentences or parts of sentences.
19. Confused sequence of ideas. The order of ideas in a sentence or paragraph should be such that the reader need not rearrange them in his mind.
20. Irrelevancy. No unnecessary idea, phrase or word should be included in the sentence.
21. False contrast. All antitheses should be true ones.
22. Over-emphasis. Over-emphasis of the illogical sort tolerated in conversation should be avoided in prose.
23. Logical weakness. Ideas should not contradict one another, or violate logic.
24. Change of standpoint. The writer should not, without clear warning, change his stand point in the course of a sentence or paragraph.
25. Mixed category. In each list of people or things all the words used should belong to the same category of ideas.
GRACE OF EXPRESSION (16 principles)
A. Mismatching of metaphors. Metaphors should not be mated in such a way as to confuse or distract the reader.
B. Too many metaphors. Metaphors should not be piled on top of one another.
C. Metaphor confused with reality. Metaphors should not be in such close association with unmetaphorical language as to produce absurdity or confusion.
D. Poetically. Characteristically poetical expressions should not be used in prose.
E. Mismatching of styles. Except where the writer is being deliberately facetious, all phrases in a sentence, or sentences in a paragraph, should belong to the same vocabulary or level of language.
F. Obscure reference. No reference should be unnecessarily obscure.
G. Circumlocation. All ideas should be expressed concisely, but without discourteous abruptness.
H. Elegant variation. The descriptive title of a person or thing should not be varied merely for the sake of elegance.
I. Overlong sentence. Sentences should not be so long that the reader loses his way in them.
J. Memory strain. No unnecessary strain should be put on the reader’s memory.
K. Too much of the same word. The same word should not be so often used in the same sentence or paragraph that it becomes tedious.
L. Jingle. Words which rhyme or form a jingle should not be allowed to come too close together.
M. Too much alliteration. Alliteration should be sparingly used.
N. Same word in different senses. The same word should not be used in different senses in the same passage, unless attention is called to the difference.
O. Second thoughts. The rhetorical device of pretending to hesitate in a choice between two words or phrases is inappropriate to modern prose.
P. Awkward inversion. Even when the natural order of its words is modified for the sake of emphasis, a sentence must not read unnaturally.
Via een artikel over het woord gobbledygook kom ik op de site van Alec Gill, psycholoog met ‘a light-hearted look at the topic’. ‘Psychology basically, is simply common sense dressed up in quasi-scientific jargon.’