The Economist Style Guide is a concise, readable and surprisingly entertaining guide to good business writing. It is arranged alphabetically and covers topics from ‘Abbreviations’ to the correct usage of 'while'.
Most of the content is straight-forward guidance such as when to hyphenate words, differences between American and British usage and a list of basic fact checking resources. This reads like Schott's Original Miscellany but with less serendipity but more utility.
The Economist Style Guide should be on the bookshelf of anyone who writes for business people. Reading it is even better.
Writing to Deadline - link
This book is the distillation of Donald Murray's experience as a journalist and a teacher. In it Murray talks about how to research a story, how to find the right angle, how to ask the reader's questions, how to structure a story, even how to write the first sentence ("thirty questions to ask to produce effective leads").
While the book is focused on the craft of the newspaper journalist it is as useful for the marketing copywriter. This is true for two equally important reasons. First, no-one has a right to readers' attention and time. We have to earn their trust and win their interest. Second, everyone is familiar with the conventions of newspaper and magazine journalism, which have evolved to serve readers.
This is not so much a ‘how to’ book, it collects a number of Ray Bradbury’s essays and poems written over a period of 30 years and touches on why he became a writer, where he finds his ideas, the process of writing some of his books and, more generally, the joys of writing.
And that's what's so refreshing – his playful and boisterous approach. He writes about the pleasures of writing, rather than treating it like a hard slog, and he never takes himself too seriously:
‘Hot today, cool tomorrow. This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour cold critical water on the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire, too?’
But that’s not to say he doesn't have some wise words. Quite the opposite. The above quotation shows you don't have to be entirely serious to offer good writing advice.
This book is like a 173-page course in Vulcan logic and precise, persuasive writing by Barbara Minto who began her career at the fabled consultancy McKinsey. The book and the pyramid principle of the title refers to her belief that a pyramid structure is the correct and perhaps only way to present information persuasively. She argues:
‘Controlling the sequence in which you present your ideas is the single most important act necessary to clear writing.’
She presents 'rules' for structuring any piece of writing:
Ideas at any level in the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.
Ideas in each grouping must always be the same kind of idea.
Ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered.
It is a compelling book but not a light, bedtime read. While we’d recommend it to anyone who has to write for business, it’s a book best followed immediately afterwards by something to restore the spirit.
With that in mind Strunk and White’s guide could be the antidote. It is probably the most widely cited books on elegant writing. It is short and pithy, living up to its own rule 'omit needless words'. It covers American usage which is less bothersome for us Brits than you'd think, in part because American non-fiction prose shares a directness and precision with the best American literature.
The English, trying to be clever, often over-egg the pudding and this book is a good recipe against that. It has two other advantages. It is short and it is pocketsize - a good choice for a train journey.