Chapter 1: Levels of Style
Prose Style Chapter 1
Levels of Style
Aims at loftiness and grandeur
Too ornate and ceremonious for all but a few occasions
Differs sharply from everyday conversations
Clarity and simplicity
Sounds more like conversation
Not limited simply to familiar words
Also uses synonyms, i.e. reflect, speculate, contemplate
Middle Style: Traps
So popular the word has lost meaning
Meant to be pretentious
Ex: existentialist, chauvinism, impacted, input
Ex: laissez faire, bona fide, angst
Often heard in academic circles – meant to impress
Jargon: collection of technical terms
Specialist to specialist
Be aware of audience
If used, define the term clearly
Meant to impress
Sometimes encouraged within a field of study at the University level
Low Style and Colloquial
Plain and ordinary
Casual conversation – way too casual!
Appropriate at bull session or beer party
Hallmark of Low Style
“I’m fed up”
Use of “I” and “You”
Contractions, i.e. “can’t”
Example of Low Style
“Man, I was grossed out last night when I saw Black Dahlia.
You should have seen how they snuffed the chick trying out for the movies. Man,
the murderer cut her in two…just like a piece of meat, man. Gross. Really gross.”
More About Low Style
Slang, i.e. “Whassup?”
Lack of clarity
Sounds good but doesn’t say anything
Ex: “…the way men and women get treated in the latest movies…”
Low Style and More…
Cliches – old sayings that have lost meaning
Also called hackneyed expressions
Ex: busy as a bee; hard as a rock; hook, line and sinker
More subtle but still overused
Ex: “with a vengeance,” “a crushing blow”
Back to Middle Style
Occasionally borrows from High and Low
Writer uses metacognitive techniques to judge appropriate use
Higher style – reflects serious message
…an educated and sophisticated audience of scholars
§ YOUR AP EXAM READERS EXPECT MIDDLE WITH LOTS OF CONTROL
Considerations of Style Using SOAPSTONE
Stance (Your position on the subject)
Tone (Your attitude toward the subject)
Subtle Shades of Meaning
between one synonym and another
n Ex: dense vegetation and jungle
vegetation – lack of emotion
– evokes images of leopards, etc.
impact of various synonyms
of personal taste
of personal style
will this word affect my readers?
it convey precisely the meaning I wish to get across?
dictionary is large enough to accommodate every connotation
Rely on Your Own Discernment
sensitivity to the way words are used
to consider purpose and audience when analyzing and producing text
Prose Style, Chapter3
not always important
§ Poetry: values come first
§ Forcefulness of rhythm
§ Slow contemplation
of expository and argumentative prose
§ Convey ideas and information
§ Meaning crystal clear for the reader
§ Exposition tries to explain
§ Argumentation tries to persuade
is anything but easy
§ To achieve clarity you may have to
– Wrestle at length
– Confront problems with wording and arrangement
– Do much revision
straightforward is best approach
§ Remember high, middle, low style
§ Muddled prose equals muddled thinking
§ Job of a newscaster
– Convey ideas and information
– Not complexities of your particular personality
kinds of obscurity
§ “He enables the observable reality to rage against history, particle by particle. And the dreamy stagnation implies
our collective destiny.”
still missing vital information
§ Most women are relegated to work that is not really prestigious, and they do not make as much money as men. Only 38
percent of working women have risen above low-status jobs, and they earn $9,500 less per year than men do.
Power of Revision
§ “Qualities which in the American educational system do not have much attention given to them, such as compassion,
sensitivity…are not by any means treated that way in the Peace Corps, but rather the opposite.”
§ The Peace Corps emphasizes the very qualities that American education ignores─cooperativeness and compassion.
§ One of the things satisfied by earlier America was a liking for fleeing away
from things, an attitude that some people think ought to be called something different, like the frontier spirit. Up to our
time, there was still exploring. And this was happening in many places, in the Midwest, in the West, and in the Northwest Territory. Instead of being restricted to a few, great challenges were open to just about
everyone to leave.
§ Earlier America could satisfy the
normal human desire to escape from the past, a desire some people like to call “the frontier spirit.” With open
land in the Midwest, the West, and then the Northwest Territory, almost any man who felt confined frustrated, or troubled
could escape from his old life by setting out for the wilderness.
§ Label for any word, phrase, or sentence that carries more than one possible meaning.
§ Deadly for readers – no way to decide which of the available meanings was intended
§ Shows lack of writer’s control
for fuzzy pronoun usage
§ James hated his father; he was neurotically shy and insecure.
§ James? Father?
§ The youngster watched his grandparents arguing with anger and indignation.
§ Youngster? Grandparents?
§ Janice did not drop the chemistry course because the lab work was so challenging.
§ Did Janice drop the chemistry course because the challenge was too much?
§ Did Janice drop the course but not because the challenge was too much?
– Think out your ideas
– If they’re not entirely clear in your
own mind, they will be clear to no one else.
§ Do not try to sound impressive
§ Use wording that sounds easy and natural
§ Avoid high style
§ Sounds pompous, not clear
§ Be considerate toward your readers.
§ Keep them in mind at EVERY stage of your drafting – how are clear are my ideas, sentences, wording?
§ Inexperienced writers assume if prose is clear to them it will be clear to readers – NOT!!!
your audience when drafting…
§ Talk over your ideas with friends
§ Outline ideas in advance, explain them orally to someone
§ Go back and write, keeping friends and effective wording in mind
your audience when revising
§ Read your prose aloud to friends
§ Ask them to listen for and be brutally honest about–
– Phrases that are opaque
– Sentences that are hard to follow
– Paragraphs that wander off the point
§ “…the very first step in power is a flight, is an ascending movement into another element where earth is
- Unknown, 1848
Prose Style Chapter 4
Abstract and General
• Abstract language – intangibles
• Examples: freedom, fulfillment, love, intelligence, hypocrisy
• General language – things that can be seen and touched –
General Language Examples
• From General to specific:
– Moving thing
– Four-wheeled vehicle
general and specific are key
• Specific allows us to say:
– When the Joneses added up the cost of insurance,
depreciation and upkeep, they realized that they laid out $15,000 a year on that yacht of theirs, a gas-guzzling supreme Bayliner
that did nothing but sit at the dock all summer at Lake Tahoe, or ornament the drydock lifts at Sunnyside during winter.
Abstract and general are mixed
• Italians do not ask themselves if the trivial conveniences offered
by the three hour afternoon siesta could really offset the tranquil opportunity for enriched family life and social interaction
that it brings about every day.
much abstract and general language is dissatisfying
• A coffee machine in every classroom would cost a large sum, but
we can afford to buy one if everyone on campus sets aside a small part of his or her paycheck from time to time. If you’d
like to support the project, please sign below.
Classic Example from WWII
• Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all
Federal Buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal Government during an air raid for any period of time from
visibility by reason of internal or external illumination. Such obscuration may be obtained either by blackout construction
or by termination of the illumination.
President Roosevelt’s Editing
• Tell them in buildings where they have to keep the work going,
to put something across the window; and in buildings where they can afford to let the work stop for a while, to turn out the
Abstract to Specific
• When the customs and amusements of a nation are cruel and barbarous,
its penal code will be severe. (Abstract/general)
• When men delight in battles, bullfights, and the combats of gladiators,
they will punish by hanging, burning and the rack.
• Clarifying specifics
• Vague, imprecise language meant to mislead or deliberately confuse
• Often found in political speeches, governmental policy statements,
political documents, and political argument
• Weapons of mass destruction
• Transfer of populations
• Rectification of frontiers
• Elimination of undesirables
• Axis of evil
• Escalation of violence
• Terrorist activity
, general language is unconvincing
• Young people of today are more unhealthy than in years past.
• Members of our performing group learned the value of teamwork.
• Students today are smarter than they were in past generations.
• More students today score higher than ten years ago.
Specific IS Terrific!
• And…concise is nice!
Chapter 5: Subjects and Verbs
Prose Style, Ch. 5
Subjects & Verbs
n Usually a prominent word
n The teacher was forced to resign.
n A sudden torrential rainstorm pelted the region.
n The suddenness of the girl’s movements scared the cat.
n Avoid using an unimportant word as the subject!
n Never, ever use THING!!!
to ask yourself…
n Is this word important enough to be a subject?
n Try recasting the sentence with some other word as subject, a word that seems to merit special emphasis.
n Choose with loving care
n Can enliven or deaden your style
n Ill-chosen verbs can weaken prose
n Think: Concise is nice
n Don’t “lard” a straightforward piece with wordy, roundabout, and ineffectual expressions
n Revision is 30 words longer than original?
n Acute verbosity - logorrhea
n Colorless verbs
n Verb to be: is, are, was, were, be, etc.
n Make, come, have, give, take
n Count the number of be verbs – then change them!
Dead or Alive?
n He is in conflict with
n The news has made our students angry
n He opposes
n The news infuriated our students
is very dangerous
n Some variety of it is or there is
n Is + past participle
n There is no question that the school day at Sheldon High is far too long for the students who need to begin at a later
time and end earlier.
n The school board should adjust the school day at Sheldon High to accommodate adolescents’ needs for a more efficient
n The ball is hit by Jack.
n The soup was prepared by Emeril on the Food Channel.
n Jack hit the ball.
n Emeril prepared the soup on the Food Channel.
passive is useful
n Use when the doer of an action is unknown.
n Use when the doer is not important enough to appear as the subject
n Use when active voice would be awkward.
Uses of Passive
n “Your letter has been received.”
n It has been decided that your resume has been deemed unqualified…instead of
n You’ve been rejected
n --in the attempt to sound worldly or to use high style to impress
n Sociologists: The data could be qualified in a number of ways.
n Journalist: The convict’s last meal was spent in his jail cell at San Quentin.
question passive voice
n Consider whether active voice would be preferable
n Make your sentences clearer, concise, more vigorous
a test: Fill in the blanks…
n Concise is ___________
n _________ is terrific.
n Autographs behind stage after the performance
n Flowers accepted…especially roses!
Conciseness: The Halloween Story
• And forcefulness
you omit useless words
words stand out more sharply
• Not only
the life of the writing
that can be deleted without loss of meaning
that serve no function whatsoever
with a sharp eye
• A dull
of great erasers
• He took
the course, not because he wanted to learn about chemistry, but because he wanted to be near the woman who was the instructor.
• He took
the course, not to learn chemistry, but to be near the woman instructor.
• As a
young man, Walt Whitman was intelligent, perceptive, energetic, and hard-working.
• As a
young man, Walt Whitman was intelligent and hard-working.
• His contemptuous
sneer obviously contradicted his extravagant but insincere compliments.
• His sneer
contradicted his compliments.
adjectives are the enemy of clarity and forcefulness
The essay winning the contest was forceful, strong, persuasive, and argumentative.
• And don’t
• It is
actually quite true that people in the very early stages of therapy will definitely tend to become
in the first stages of therapy become egocentric.
use an adverb or adjective if
are like medicine
• Too much
of a good medicine can kill you!
kinds of wordiness
need active revision…
to choose the right subject
to choose the right verb
• The thing
that prevented the plane from landing was the thick fog.
• The thick
fog prevented the plane from landing.
• It is
unfortunate that there are many teachers who use their old lecture notes until both teachers and notes have faded with age.
many teachers use their old lecture notes until both teachers and notes have faded with age.
It is, there is & relatives…ugh!
• It is
is no doubt that…
• It is
a clause where a phrase would do
• Or a
phrase where a single word would do
• He decided that each week he would eliminate one of his habits which he considered objectionable.
• He decided
each week he would eliminate one of his objectionable habits.
she had renovated the old house that was in the country, she asked all the people who were her friends at the time to come
to a party which would be sumptuous.
renovating the old country house, she invited all her friends to a sumptuous party.
• I admire
several of his virtues. The ones I admire are his modesty, his good judgment, and his readiness to lend me money.
• I admire
several of his virtues: his modesty, his good judgment, and his readiness to lend me money.
• Get rid
of wordy connectives
• In order to
• With regard
• In the event
• During the
• Because of
the fact that
things you considered during this slide show…
current goals for your writing and the date by which you will have achieved them.
• A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts.
The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy
"damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
• The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
• Or Treat!
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