Neat, Plain Language
The main topic on this page is plain English, and guidlines related to it. There are many sides to scientific skills and writing needs, and writing needs in general. It pays to be polite. Expressing and presenting ideas well enough are sides to be learnt too - an ongoing project that matters.
Figure 1 divides planned, factual writing into four levels, for convenience. The idea is that some sides to writing take more than others, and that the easiest parts are those of fixing periods, wordings, and phrases. There is much counsel on those sides to writing on this page, and also a few sidelights into values expressed in writing, highlighted by some teachings of Buddha.
Clear Language Takes a Clear Mind
There are many sides to solid language, many are above just being plain and accurate. Being truthful is one. Being considerate is another. Clarity is fine too.
Being scholarly and scientific suits Buddhism, which encourages rational takes and does not depend on blind beliefs. It is called sober, realistic, undogmatic, compatible with science. But Buddhism goes far beyond the goals of basic science too; it aims at helping happy, successful living on and up, aiming at complete liberation (awakening).
Test things in terms of cause and effect, teaches Buddha. Whatever is unskilful, leading to harm and ill, should be abandoned; whatever is skilful, leading to happiness and peace, should be pursued. You can apply such guidance to things you do. One quick test may not do for a whole life, but you can keep at it to be better able to discern what is worth including in your lifestyle.
Over 2500 years ago Buddha formed many such principles that regularly apply. He normally does not seek to persuade anyone. In fact, he talks against such bravado attempts. Also, his doctrine of Right Speech (part of the Noble Middle Way) posits that using language in a moral, non-degrading way is not to be left out. Third, many of Buddha's conclusions are based on agreeable first principles. In his outstanding Kalama Sutta he also advocates that we examine the logical and illogical reasons mustered by others or ourselves and sources very well, and to our advantage. "Do not believe a thing wilfully or blindly; make sure as best you can," is a key message. Another is not to trust authorities wholly just because they are authorities. Many persons confuse truths with statements by authority figures, and that is being quite blind: One is not to trust appearances blindly and foolishly either. At least scientists try not to do that: [Evidence]
Further, Buddha stressed the need for good language skills, and the value of abstaining from foul language. Being skilful is a significant side to his general teachings. Express with aplomb, then.
(From the discourse "To Cunda the Silversmith," Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta, AN 10.176)
True and decent words may be dear, at least to the wise, yet some are otherwise . . .
A wise person is marked by good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct and good mental conduct, says Buddha in "The Further-factored Discourses (Anguttara nikaya)" 3.2. What he says about speech, applies equally well to written communications. Some vital principles of science are lined up with his teachings. But the rest of this page is concerned with common, accepted technicalities only.
(Main source: ◦"To Cunda the Silversmith", in Anguttara nikaya 10:176. More: http://www.vipassana.com/resources/8fp4.php)
Fifteen Tips - The Plain Language Commission
There are many similar lists, some with fewer points, and some with more points than fifteen. The next one is recommended far and wide.
Plain English Guidelines of 2013
- from Martin Cutts: Oxford Guide to Plain English, 4rd ed. (Oxford UP, 2013, p. xxxi-xxxii).
The guidelines of the fourth edition differ a bit from the guidelines given in the previous three editions. The biggest changes are additions at the end of the list. Added guidelines reflect changing media and adaptations to email writing and Web presentations. Rephrasings improve a few of the older guidelines.
The title of the book was changed with its second edition (2004) from Plain English Guide.
Drop "insecurity padding"
Prefer a short word to a long one ... unless the longer word is better, and a single word to a phrase if brevity makes for clarity. [Scu 56 - See also The Complete Plain Words by Gowers)
Introductory and connecting phrases which can usually be deleted without altering the meaning of the sentence:
[From Barrass 1978, 39]
Circumlocution: the use of many words where few would do better
[See Barrass 1978, 70-71]
Circumlocution: some phrases which are commonly used when one word would do better
[From Barrass 1978, 72]
Avoid the unnecessary qualification of words
[Source: Barrass 1978, 61]
[From O'Connor and Woodford 1978, 93-98]
Prefer a short word to a long word if the short word is more appropriate
[See Barrass 1978, 56]
Phrases that scientists should not use
[Barrass 1978, 30]
Axelrod, Rise B., and Charles R. Cooper. The St. Martin's Guide to Writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010.
Barrass, Robert: Scientists Must Write. London: Chapman and Hall, 1978.
Barrass, Robert: Scientists Must Write. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
Blamires, Harry. The Penguin Guide to Plain English: Express Yourself Clearly and Effectively. London: Penguin Books, 2000.
Brooks, Brian S., James L. Pinson, Jean Gaddy Wilson. Working With Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010.
Collins. Collins Improve Your Writing Skills. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2009.
Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. (3rd ed. 2009. 2nd ed. 2004, and 1st ed. named The Plain English Guide, 1995)
Gowers, Sir Ernest. The Complete Plain Words. 3rd ed. Rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut. London: Penguin, 1987. ⍽▢⍽ Greenbaum and Whitcut revise with care Bruce Faser's enlarged, revised edition of 1973.
Kane, Thomas S. The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing. New York: Berkley Books, 2000.
Manser, Martin. The Facts on File Guide to Style. New York: Facts on File, 2006.
O'Connor, Maeve, and F. Peter Woodford. Writing Scientific Papers in English. London: Pitman Medical, 1978.
Peat, Jennifer. Scientific Writing: Easy When You Know How. London: BMJ Books, 2002.
Ritter, R. M. The Oxford Guide to Style. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Silverman, Jay, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer. Rules of Thumb: A Guide for Writers. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
Stevens, Matthew L. Subtleties of Scientific Style. Thornleigh, NSW: ScienceScape Editing, 2007.
Strunk, William, Jr, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.
Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Williams, John, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Revised by Joseph Bizup. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2014.
Harvesting the hay
Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers — (2) Digesting.
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