school graduations coming up next week, this seems like a good time to
think about the upcoming generation of business writers.
Are your children adequately prepared to
succeed in their college courses and to take their place as tomorrow’s
leaders of industry and commerce? Will the thinking and writing skills
they have acquired in elementary school and high school provide them with
the foundation they need to succeed?
Personally, I’m not taking any chances
with my teenage children. When Eddy and Kate graduate in 1997 and 1999,
I’m going to send them on their way with three somewhat unusual graduation
gifts: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s
The Elements of Style (MacMillan,
$9.95), Diana Hacker’s
A Writer’s Reference
(Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, $27.00), and Charles T.
The Business Writer’s Handbook (St.
Martin’s Press, $38.95).
Here’s why I think these three books are
invaluable to every graduating senior.
Strunk and White’s classic little
handbook (90 pages) is standard reading for anyone who is serious about
developing a clear and graceful writing style. Its five sections –
Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few
Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach
to Style – offer advice that is not only practical but witty.
The book may seem dated in places
(particularly the authors’ defense of "he" as an inclusive pronoun), but
few writers are capable of presenting rules so simply ("Write with nouns
and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs") or entertainingly ("The
adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of
a tight place").
Since so many of today’s style books are
modeled (sometimes point for point) after Strunk and White, why not read
the original? (And, yes, E. B. White is the same person who wrote one of
America’s great children’s stories, Charlotte’s Web.)
Although not as much fun to read as
The Elements of Style, Diana Hacker’s
A Writer’s Reference is more
convenient to use. "Carefully designed to save you time," this 350-page
manual is marked with 12 section dividers for quick and easy reference.
Its contents include sections on
composing and revising, document design, effective sentences, word choice,
trouble spots with English as a second language, punctuation, research
writing, and styles of documentation. It provides just about everything
college students need to know to plan, compose, edit, and document their
essays and research papers. For serious students, accompanying exercise
booklets can be ordered. (What better way for college-bound students to
spend their summers than doing writing exercises?)
The third book on my list is Brusaw’s
The Business Writer’s Handbook . A
one-volume encyclopedia for business writers, it is organized
alphabetically for easy reference. Many of its entries are brief ("definite/definitive
Definite and definitive both apply to what is 'precisely
defined,' but definitive more often refers to what is complete and
authoritative"). Others (such as the entries on feasibility reports and
proofreading) are several pages.
Especially valuable to graduates who are
applying for jobs and beginning their careers without every having written
a memo or organized a report, this book bridges the gap between good
writing principles and practical business applications.
The total cost for these graduation
gifts: $75.90 (or much less for used copies), plus tax. Not so much,
really, when you think of them as a lifetime investment.
After all, how much have you invested in
getting your children to where they are today? More important, how much do
you value their future?