English doesn't live here anymore

"Visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible." McLuhan said it, and to prove it, he wrote thirteen books. One more report of death that appears to have been greatly exaggerated.

The visual word shows no signs of aging. On the contrary, we seem to be rediscovering its strength. Time Magazine, in a story on email and the Internet, wrote: "Just when the media of McLuhan were supposed to render obsolete the medium of Shakespeare, the online world is experiencing the greatest boom in letter writing since the 18th Century."

On closer look, the writer also had to ask:

If email represents the renaissance of prose, why is so much of it so awful?

Everyone benefits when we make good writing a habit. Whether you write to teach or to entertain, to motivate or merely to inform, you'll be more effective if you take to heart these simple secrets:

Write for the Joneses
The Vanderbilts will understand. But if you write for the Vanderbilts, the Joneses will ignore you. Use clear, easy language and plain words. Keep sentences short.

Write naturally
Does anyone, save Cousin Mel, ever "contemplate the termination of all future activity at the baked goods facility," or are we "thinking of closing the pretzel plant?" The irony is, when we're trying to make an impression, that's usually the impression we make.

Make positive statements
Cross out "Chasing rainbows is not a useful way to occupy one's time" and replace it with "is a waste of time." The word 'not' is inherently weak. One look at the tabloids will convince you that readers care more about who did (expose, strangle, have an affair with) than who didn't.

Use the active voice
Passive sentences tend to depersonalize, which is why committees adore them. "It was decided that . . . there was much interest in . . . this issue was addressed by Joe Bush." Write instead "Joe Bush proposed."

Be specific
Name names, number numbers. One formula most writers will agree on is that writing is more interesting when it's specific. The news that "there was an extended period of inclement weather" says little when in fact it "rained every day for two weeks."

Omit needless words
Vigorous, dynamic writing is concise. The constant use of rather, quite, pretty, very, and little drains the life out of any phrase. "It was a (rather) vicious act, and what I saw was (pretty) horrible and (a little) scary." Pretty horrible? A little scary? Good grief!

Revise and rewrite
Ask your friends to read it. Give it the neighborhood bar test, then read it aloud to your dog. It may break your heart to watch those bright streaks of inspiration fade to a glimmer in the cold light of day. But, in the immortal words of the late Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch: "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it - wholeheartedly - and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press."