Teachings of Buddha for Solid, Plain Language
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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.
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. I suggest there is a better way: [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.
Buddha taught by speaking. What he said about speech, applies well to written communications too. Some vital principles of science are lined up with his teachings. But for the rest of this page we deal with common, accepted technicalities only.
- from Martin Cutts: Oxford Guide to Plain English, 3rd ed. (Oxford UP, 2009, p. xxvi-xxvii).
The guidelines of the third edition differ a bit from the guidelines given in the second edition, and from the first edition as well. The title of the book was changed with its second edition (2004, where the survey of guidelines are placed on p. 17-18). Compare the Plain English Guide (p 9-10). Added guidelines reflect changing media and adaptations to email writing and Web presentations. There is, suprisingly perhaps, some waffling in several sections of the last two editions.
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 Cop (Sir Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words, 1973)]
Introductory and connecting phrases which can usually be deleted without altering the meaning of the sentence:
[From Scu 39]
[See Scu 70-71]
[From Scu 72]
[Source: Scu 61]
[From Oco 93-98]
[See Scu 56]
Ciw: Collins. Collins Improve Your Writing Skills. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2009.
Cop: Gowers, Sir Ernest. The Complete Plain Words. 2nd ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973. (An edition from 2004 exists)
Oco: O'Connor, Maeve, and F. Peter Woodford. Writing Scientific Papers in English. London: Pitman Medical, 1978.
Ope: Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. (2nd ed. 2004, and 1st ed., named The Plain English Guide, 1995)
Scw: Barrass, Robert: Scientists Must Write. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
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