5 resources to overcome writing challenges
Writing a review is often a long drawn out process for me. It involves searching the book to check I’ve correctly spelled character and place names but also frantically looking for the quote I thought I had noted but now can’t find. I also spend a fair amount of time re-writing because I’m not happy with the flow of a sentence or realise what I’ve written is grammatically incorrect. When inspiration refuses to play ball and I know I need a different expression or word, I’ll turn to my my monster size Chambers Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus.
Over the years I’ve found many on line resources that I’ve found helpful. Those I list below are some of the lesser known ones. If you know of some other gems, do tell me about them by posting a comment.
This is a site developed in North America by the Plain Language Action and Information Network. The network is a group of government employees who support the use of clear communication in official documents. There are some good resources about organising, using plain language writing principles, and writing for the Web. If you work in a corporate environment, take a look at the word suggestions page where you can find easy to understand alternatives to some of the more cumbersome phrases you’ll probably recognise. The Made up Word list will have you groaning – are there really people who use words like “autoised” or “bloatware”? I hope I never meet them…..
Similar to Plainlanguage.gov the Plain English Campaign is a group that believes strongly in clear communication. It was started in 1979 by Chrissie Maher, a grandmother who was frustrated by the quality of government documents she was expected to complete. She took her battle to London where she burned many official documents in Parliament Square, a protest which brought her to the attention of a government minister by the name of Margaret Thatcher. Their fight against jargon and misleading information has become an international campaign. On their website you’ll find some very easy to understand tips (particularly helpful is one that deals with bullet points) and a downloadable A-Z of Alternative Words. I have a special affection for this group since I worked on a project with them in the mid 80s and met the founder; a more down-to-earth person you could not imagine.
Purdue OWL comes from the Writing Lab at Purdue University, USA. It covers the mechanics of writing, grammatical issues and how to deal with citations. Particularly helpful are the exercises – even if you’ve been writing for years it’s good to do a refresher now and again.
Jack Lynch is a professor of English who has put together a site covering grammatical rules and style. It’s written in a fresh, no nonsense style from a man who says he has writing struggles despite his extensive experience. “I’m not out to make definitive statements about what’s right and what’s wrong, and Lord knows I wouldn’t be qualified even if I tried. I can, however, make suggestions on things that are likely to work”
If you’re interested in how vocabulary and language changes over time, this could be the website for you. It contains some discussions of new words as well as the histories of certain words and the oddities and quirks of the English language. Ever wanted to know the origin of the phrase “Gone for a Burton”? or why the expression “methinks” has fallen out of favour? Both are recent discussions on the site.