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Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little [Kindle Edition]

Christopher Johnson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“A work of pop linguistics . . . [that] synthesizes . . . grammar, branding, cognitive science and Web theory . . . with intelligence and friendly wit.”—New York Times

Welcome to the age of the incredible shrinking message. Your guide to this new landscape, Christopher Johnson reveals the once-secret knowledge of poets, copywriters, brand namers, political speechwriters, and other professional verbal miniaturists. Each chapter discusses one tool that helps short messages grab attention, communicate instantly, stick in the mind, and roll off the tongue. Piled high with examples from corporate slogans to movie titles to product names, Microstyle shows readers how to say the most with the least, while offering a lively romp through the historic transformation of mass media into the media of the personal.

Editorial Reviews


“With advice for writing compelling blogs, pitches, ads, slogans, and social-media postings, Johnson’s sophisticated, richly referenced, and example filled microstyle guide is distinctive, instructive, enjoyable, and inspiring.” (Donna Seaman - Booklist)

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little, is a work of pop linguistics… it synthesizes a wide range of current thinking from recent books about grammar, branding, cognitive science and Web theory. But it does so with intelligence and friendly wit. Mr. Johnson’s point is that words are for wooing, in ways both personal and professional, and his own prose is sociable enough to underscore that point and spritz it with a bit of sophisticated perfume. His book is here, like a dating guide, to whisper: You too can woo.” (Dwight Garner - New York Times)

“Are you microstylish? In the 140-character universe we now inhabit, you better be.” (Seth Godin, author of Poke the Box)

“What do Oscar Wilde, Steve Jobs, and Jello Biafra have in common? Each has mastered microstyle. With this riotous and readable book, Christopher Johnson helps you join the club. In no time you’ll be coining witty epigrams, imagining unforgettable brands, or crafting a distinctive identity.” (Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax)

“Think big. Write small. Read Microstyle.” (George Lakoff, author of The Political Mind)

“Useful and entertaining.” (Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing)

About the Author

Christopher Johnson is a blogger and branding consultant, with a PhD in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Product Details

  • File Size: 410 KB
  • Print Length: 257 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393077403
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 23, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0057QNZNG
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #485,828 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hold The Onion July 30, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought Microstyle after reading the NY Times review, and found it to be an interesting but slightly repetitive survey of short marketing messages and funny one-liners.

Most of the examples in the book are advertising slogans, mixed in with far too many fake headlines from The Onion and selections from Twitter Wit and the FakeAPStyleGuide. I kept waiting for a discussion of more substantive micro-communication. There was no mention of Iran, China, or other places where people have been experimenting with short bursts of text to organize, communicate with the world and avoid censorship. Surely the author has seen instructive examples of that type of communication, and I think the book would benefit by moving beyond branding, marketing and humor.

Highlights were the three short chapters on rhythm, poetic patterns and sonority, but in general this book made me want to re-read Strunk & White. For a more elegantly curated collection of microstyle, try Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.

(As an aside, I bought the Kindle version because I could not stand to look at the book jacket. Microstyle applies to graphic design as well, and the jacket design is a clunky and nonsensical mixture of metaphors: ruled notebook paper, two kinds of typewriter text, digital type and a stylized magnifying glass, which might also represent a search icon. The author is able to elegantly dissect mixed metaphor in text, but his insights should have been aggressively applied to the cover.)
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I twitter; I love language; and I also practice securitization, which is a micro-structural approach to corporate finance. Hence, the appeal of Christopher Johnson's book. What do I think? In brief, I like that his approach challenges my politically correct, traditionalist views on grammar and structure, which he labels Big Style. I like how he created action-oriented categories for classifying micro-messages. But what I didn't find was the link between categories and their effect. I guess maybe I should have been forewarned by the word "art" in the title. Perhaps what I was hoping for is science.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Microstyle (or micromessages) is all about grabbing the attention for a moment and communicating something quickly. It's how we (mostly) read and write today.

The author, Christopher Johnson, PhD., an expert in verbal branding, says that, I paraphrase: "Daily verbal life has come to be dominated my micromessages, not because we're suffering from a mass onset of attention deficit disorder, but because it's simple economics".

It's one of the smartest books I've read in a long time. And, the author's in-depth knowledge and passion on the subject shows on every page.

A word of caution; it's not an airport book offering "seven steps for sure success in microstyle". It's an in-depth book on the subject, by a linguist. It's an in-depth book on the theory and practice of microstyle.

Result: if you're willing to spend some time reading on microstyle, the book is for you. I'm sure you'll find it highly rewarding.

Franco Arda, CEO
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The author takes a look at language usage from different perspectives (including linguistics, rhetoric, advertising, and online communications), makes a variety of thoughtful observations, and offers suggestions for how to use fewer words to communicate more effectively and memorably. In the process, the author discusses language usage in conversations, advertising, headlines, slogans, company names, brand names, trademarks, nicknames, metaphors, poetry, rhymes, song lyrics, idioms, neologisms, puns and wordplay, and various forms of online communication.

Much of the book is interesting, thought-provoking, and worth considering. Unfortunately, the author tries to cover too much ground in his ambitious effort to discuss the subject matter thoroughly, and occasionally obscures his message in an avalanche of detail. Given the theme of the book, the author should have been more brief and concise with his commentary and explanations. A revised edition of the book might be helpful, if the author trimmed some of longer commentary and explanations, and provided a concise "executive summary" of salient points at the end of each chapter.

Despite its flaws, this is a good book that is worth reading. Its thoughtful observations and explanations could be a source of helpful ideas for people interested in trying to write more effectively.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Reference for Brand Specialists November 29, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a great overview of key aspects of language a brand specialist would consider in developing a brand name, tag line, slogan or really anything that has to capture attention quickly and memorably. It's a quick read that moves from one topic to another with intelligence, humor and many specific examples to illustrate each concept. Fitting with the book's title, it is not a long exploration into the deeper cognitive structures of contemporary language and only touches on some interesting questions about how language continues to evolve in the context of new technologies. Knowing Johnson is a linguist, I wish the book did delve into these topics but then that would be a different type of book.

This book has a place on my reference shelf.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars must read for all who live in an internet world...that is evryone
great basic pointers on making your own micromessages and names. even more important, now the workings of those cartchy names and slogans will no longer be a mystery.
Published 2 months ago by Haresh Sangani
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable commentary but not for everyone
The first thirty pages are fluff, but after that we are treated to a wealth of examples of how the under-the-surface poetic possibilities in ordinary language affect slogans,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Experienced seminar leader
5.0 out of 5 stars Get the point across
Minimally and maximally
Published 5 months ago by Avraham Melamed
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a look for wordsmiths and culture hounds
If you're curious about the evolution of language in the age of Twitter, soundbites and increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques, MICROSTYLE will be of interest. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Lisa Pliscou
2.0 out of 5 stars Alienates potential readers with his dogmatism
As is to be expected of a Berkeley ideologue, the author busies himself with mocking conservatism and conservatives at every ostensibly cryptoanalytical opportunity. Read more
Published on June 24, 2012 by David Govett
4.0 out of 5 stars Let My Words Be Few
Mining an interesting niche in a world of 140 character wit, Microstyle examines the various structures that have become prevalent in modern communications. Read more
Published on April 26, 2012 by Warren Rachele
1.0 out of 5 stars Useless -
Goes on and on and on - violating his own first principal. No real structure, and the hints are old news. Very disappointed - I was looking to improve my own writing.
Published on January 23, 2012 by Loyd E. Eskildson
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuggets in the haystack
Christopher is a linguist and cannot help but take us into the linguist's head.... a bit too much if you don't have a love of the evolution of words and nuances of sound, rhythm,... Read more
Published on October 21, 2011 by Sandra A. Shelton
4.0 out of 5 stars Your words sliced, diced & cubed
Thinking about language, says Christopher Johnson, is a "strange" activity.

We think we know how to use language to express ourselves but we don't really understand how... Read more
Published on September 16, 2011 by Rett01
3.0 out of 5 stars Frees Writers To Explore
Microstyle frees writers up to explore and develop their own writing styles for audiences with shorter, more intense attention spans. Read more
Published on July 31, 2011 by Bryan J. Fuhr
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More About the Author

Christopher Johnson is a writer and verbal branding consultant. He grew up and went to college in the midwest and then journeyed to California with all his belongings in a canvas duffel to study linguistics. (Yes, that's really true.)

Since receiving his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, Christopher has found many ways to apply his love and knowledge of words and grammar. He's been a brand language specialist at Lexicon Branding, a computational lexicographer for the Berkeley FrameNet project, a software developer for natural language processing projects in both startup and corporate research settings, and a professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.

Now Christopher names companies and products and does other verbal branding work as The Name Inspector, and also blogs under that name. He likes to think of himself as a pop linguist. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife and two sons, and occasionally writes a book. (Actually, Microstyle is his first.)

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