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Blogs about writing

Note that these entries are in date sequence – oldest first.

Think about your writing! Posted on 22 November 2016 by James Cowan in Blogs about blogging; Writing

As I write my blog posts, I try to ensure that I express exactly what I mean to in a way that I don't assume you, Dear eader, need to understand anything that I have not made explicit. So everything you need to know to comprehend the post before you is itself before you. Not, as they say, rocket science. I take this rule further, when I am proofreading the work of others. If what they are trying to say requires that I, in my role as a reader, bring specialist information to that role, then the writing is not ... Read more

What makes a writer a writer? Posted on 9 January 2017 by James Cowan in Writing

Actually, I sometimes think, it would be easier to write this the other way round. What is not a qualification for the title of "writer"? But first, definition: for the purpose of this article, I define a writer as someone who is creating a manuscript to be read by other people, many of them strangers. This means "not just by family"! To start with the blindingly obvious, having access to a word-processing package is not a qualification. Rather like always using GPS to navigate instead of ... Read more

Dictating to your computer Posted on 29 January 2017 by James Cowan in Automation; Writing

I have mentioned dictation software a few times in my blogs on Troublesome Words, having had limited experience of its use. For purposes of this post, I went back and tried again, with better results than I had anticipated. There is quite a lot of reasonable dictation software around, also sometimes called "voice [or speech] recognition" software. There is even free software in Windows, which I have found to be as good as a quite expensive offering. And it didn't need ... Read more

On numbers Posted on 8 February 2017 by James Cowan in English language; Proofreading; Writing

Funny things, numbers. The way you write about them can show you up in an amazing fashion. Let's start with percentages. Everybody knows what a percentage is, it's the proportion of a sample that fits a particular profile. "50% of cars are red" means that fifty out of every hundred cars, half of all cars, are red. No ambiguity here. But wait ... there's more! It is possible, under some circumstances, that the percentage quoted may be larger than 100 – for example ... Read more

No writing is a complete waste Posted on 20 March 2017 by James Cowan in Writing

If you have checked out the "About" page of this site, you will know that much of my career was spent working with computers. In this moderately arcane world, there is a saying that "no program is a complete waste: it can always be used as a bad example". How terrifyingly true! So bad were some of the examples that I had to "improve" that I wrote an article for the computing press debating whether a better ... Read more

Hiding the light Posted on 31 May 2017 by James Cowan in Writing

I recently rediscovered Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. And this time I found it vaguely disappointing. For those who don't know it, a bit of background. King Richard III of England (1483–1485), the last English king to die in battle (Bosworth, 22 August 1485), has long been vilified for a number of actions. This vilification is based not as much on facts as upon the following king's (Henry VII's and the ensuing Tudors') need to justify his rebellion against ... Read more

A 10-Step Program for Ridding Your Writing of Empty Superlatives Posted on 20 June 2017 by James Cowan in Guest posts; Writing

I saw this on LinkedIn this week and thought it worth bringing to my readers' attention by adding it to my blog – with the author's permission, of course!

Posted on his blog on 12 June 2017 by David Rosenbaum

In the thought leadership content game, we are awash in a sea of superlatives. All projects are highly successful, and most are profoundly transformational. Experts are deeply experienced, and company employees are greatly empowered by extraordinary change management programs. These superlatives spritzed over thought leadership writing make it easy for readers to dismiss these projects, experts, and programs as mere marketing collateral or advertising. Your target audience doesn't read thought leadership to be pitched to. It reads it to be ... Read more

English grammar Posted by James Cowan on 20 July 2017 in English language; Writing

I mentioned in an earlier blog that English is not "rule-based', merely a system of conventions ("More art than science", 3 October 2016, under Proofreading). That is, there are very few ways to be entirely "wrong" in English, although there are traps that can make you look less clever in the way you write. The easy one, that a surprising number of writers fall into, is to let the form of the verb (the "doing") and the number of "actors" who are ... Read more

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