Style Guide by The Economist

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Style Guide by The Economist

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Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: If you write in circumstances where you need to be understood then this book should be on your desk. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846681752

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I've always been fascinated by the use of the English language. I've loved the way that precise use of words can make meaning absolutely clear – or obscure it altogether. Some publications are a joy to read whilst others leave you with a frown. Generally The Economist comes into the first category and this is mainly down to the magazine's style guide – the rule book which guides writers towards clear writing. This is the tenth edition and whilst it might sound rather dry it's the bible for people wishing to communicate with precision and style – and who appreciate the book's gentle humour.

We are all guilty of the errors (well, with the possible exception of John Grimond of The Economist) and I'll confess to hanging my head in shame on several occasions as I read about the common errors which people make as they write. I've used the word underprivileged when a privilege is a special favour or advantage accorded to a few and not something to which everyone is entitled. You cannot give privileges to all – for then they cease to be privileges.

I've used clichés. Kudos is given to the people who first used such phrases as level playing field or window of opportunity but they're over-used. I liked the sensible advice that it you've heard a phrase used regularly then don't use it. I've used long words where short ones will do. I've been chatty and now realise that it's irritating and just occasionally I've been guilty of using the language of the bureaucrat I once was.

There's sensible and concise advice on grammar and punctuation, but you're not going to feel as though you're back at school. Think of it as a reference guide or refresher course and you'll not go wrong. The examples are clear and frequently amusing. I've just opened the book at random and I thought you might like to see the sort of advice that's available:

redact in Latin means bring back. Do not use it, as is now fashionable, to mean the opposite: obscure, blot out, obliterate. In fact, do not use it at all.

reductive is a technical term in chemistry and philosophy, now often dropped into general conversation by pretentious people anxious to impress. It is seldom clear what they mean. Avoid.

ring, wring (verbs) bells are rung; hands are wrung. Both may be seen at weddings.

The second section of the book highlights the differences between American and British uses of the language. It's dealt with in just eighteen pages but points up the essential differences and areas where it's best to avoid confusion. The final section is headed Useful Reference and is a wonderful place to browse for such gems as how to proofread, populations of the world and all those organisations with their confusing acronyms.

Over the years few books earn a place on my desk, as most reference books are available online, but I'm making an exception for this one. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. Now all I've got to do is persuade every one of our reviewers to read it…

Over the past few years, I've realised that the books published by The Economist are gems. We can recommend Pocket World in Figures as the most reliable source of annual statistics and The World of Business: From Valuable Brands and Games Directors Play to Bail-Outs and Bad Boys. You might also enjoy Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by Christopher Johnson. You might also like to have a look atThe Economist Style Guide: 11th Edition.

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