Sunday, February 28, 2010

The least you should know about English

It used to be that English majors and English professors wrote most of the books that were published in the United States, with the exception of textbooks in specific disciplines. They had not only the love of literature to spur them on but they had also the most solid grounding in grammar, mechanics (including punctuation), and style. They'd had serious training in writing and reading. Editing, done by one's publisher, was primarily developmental; that is, it looked at the structure of the book, its plot and characters if fiction/its organization and accuracy if nonfiction. The manuscript then went through a final proofreading stage for errors in typesetting and an occasional inconsistency by an author.

Today huge numbers of books are being written and published by people who don't come from this specialized language background. They may or may not be well read; they may or may not be well-schooled in the language and the conventions of writing. While many will pay a text editor to polish their text, others may wish to improve their own skills as part of their writing life.

An excellent series of books is called The Least You Should Know about English (Paige Wilson and Teresa Ferster Glazier), now in its 10th edition. I've used these books for years with adult writing students who are getting MBAs or other higher education degrees in the social sciences. Those students often haven't had a writing class since Freshman English decades before and need a way to review such things as parts of speech, standard punctuation conventions, commonly misspelled words, and other writing issues.

The series (forms A, B, and C) are the same book with different exercises (answers in the book) so they are perfect for self-review by the interested writer. Clients of mine who have gone through one of the books are often able to self-edit with much more accuracy and skill, thus saving editing fees and, more importantly, feeling much stronger as writers. An added bonus: If you have kids or grandkids around, the book is perfect for them too.

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