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Revising Prose (5th Edition) Paperback – July 20, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0321441690 ISBN-10: 0321441699 Edition: 5th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Longman; 5 edition (July 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321441699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321441690
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Lanham's eight simple steps to clearer, more understandable writing will win you praise from bosses, colleagues, and clients. Voice; Business Prose; Professional Prose; Electronic Prose; General Interest; improving your writing.

About the Author

University of California, Los Angeles

More About the Author

Richard A. Lanham: Life and Work


I went to the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and to Yale University. After taking my A.B. degree in English from Yale, I served a two-year stint in the U.S.Army and then worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington before returning to Yale for my Ph.D. I began teaching at Dartmouth, moved to the English Department at UCLA in 1965, and remained there for the rest of my career.


My teaching life found its center in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and literary rhetoric from classical Greece to the present day. From my earliest days at Dartmouth, also, I took a keen interest in student writing. I taught composition courses both at Dartmouth and at UCLA, and in 1979 I started the UCLA Writing Programs. The Programs began with thirty full-time lecturers hired in a single year, and they developed a set of pioneering courses across the curriculum. Many of the lecturers in the Programs have gone on to distinguished teaching, administrative, and business careers, both at UCLA and elsewhere. I've told the story of this start-up adventure in a chapter of my Literacy and the Survival of Humanism.


Where did my books come from? My scholarly career began with the Yale Press publication of my Ph.D. dissertation (Sidney's Original Arcadia) on rhetorical language in an Elizabethan prose romance. In my teaching I found that I was often using the Latin and Greek terms for rhetorical figures, and that students needed a guide to these terms. I started with a two-page list and this led to a longer list and finally to A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, which has been in print since 1967, in two editions, at the University of California Press. The book sets out the fundamental rules of formal rhetoric and has served many readers as an outline introduction to the subject.
From my interest in composition emerged a series of books and videos: Revising Prose, Revising Business Prose, The Revising Prose Video, The Revising Business Prose Video, Analyzing Prose, and Style: An Anti-Textbook.
From my literary teaching came: The Motives of Eloquence; Tristram Shandy: The Games of Pleasure; and a series of essays, Literacy and the Survival of Humanism, all of which explored the role of classical rhetoric in Western literature.
In the early 1980's, I became interested in how the written word was moving from the page to the computer screen, a transition I discussed in The Electronic Word. The volatility of the word on an electronic screen--its ability to move around, change shape, size, color, disappear and reappear, continually reach out to establish new connections--suggested different ways for writing to work, new ways that seemed to emerge spontaneously from an ever-changing medium.
This ever-changing electronic mixture led me to ponder spontaneous, emergent systems of order in other areas of life; biological evolution; its replication within computers--often called "artificial life"; problem-solving through computer-based evolution rather than propositional thinking; and, of course, the oldest of spontaneously evolving systems--markets. I pondered how classical rhetoric describes such a world in my The Economics of Attention, arguing that rhetoric supplied a fundamental economics for an information society such as ours. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006, it won the Media Ecology Association's Erving Goffman Award.

Visiting Appointments.

I have been an NEH Senior Fellow, a Senior Fellow in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan, the 1994 International Scholar at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., and, in 1995, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Tulane University. In 2001-02, as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured and met with students and faculty in two-day visits to nine U.S. college campuses

Recent assignments.

In 2010 I delivered the keynote address at the Council of Independent Colleges conference on how best to use the internet in undergraduate research. Also in 2010, I spoke at the Rochester Institute of Technology symposium on "The Future of Reading." And in March of 2012 I was a featured speaker at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Moonlight Job.

Since 1971, I have also acted as a literary consultant and expert witness in over sixty copyright cases in the television and motion picture business. I have worked on cases involving King Kong, Jaws, Shampoo, Earthquake, Star Wars, Superman, and many other films. My television credits in this line of endeavor include The A-Team and Falcon Crest. Most recently I acted as an expert witness in a case involving a PETA campaign.

Customer Reviews

The rest of the book is very repetitive, although periodically interesting.
John C. Dunbar
In "Revising Prose," his witty and blessedly brief book, Lanham gifts a five-star jewel to all expository writers.
C. J. Singh
As an English major, this book was by far the most helpful book I read to improve my writing.
Evans Thompson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 61 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Singh on March 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California)

* * *

Years ago, I attended a weekend workshop for instructors of college composition that was led by Professor Richard Lanham, author of Revising Prose , visiting from UCLA, and Professor Joseph Williams, author of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace , visiting from the University of Chicago. They presented witty and lucid summaries of their books, Lanham focusing on revising at the sentence level and Williams on paragraphs. Although their books have gone through several editions since, the core concepts remain the same. Both self-teaching books are on my amazon Listmania's list "Expository Writing: Top Ten Books."

In the preface to "Revising Prose (5th edition)" Lanham notes: "Writing may have been invented to keep bureaucratic accounts....As the world has become bureaucratized, so has its language....Revising Prose was written as a supplementary text for any course that requires writing. Because it addresses a single discrete style, "Revising Prose" can be rule-based to a degree that prose analysis rarely permits. This set of rules -- the Paramedic Method --in turn allows the book to be self-teaching."

In each of the five editions of "Revising Prose," Lanham added fresh examples and exercises to its core content: the Paramedic Method comprising eight steps as follows.

1. Circle the prepositions;
2. Circle the "is" forms;
3. Find the action;
4. Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb;
5. Start fast - no slow windups;
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By brian d foy VINE VOICE on August 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Lanham correctly finds the problem with the Official Style people pick up as they go through school and their jobs. They write noun-heavy, passive sentences that pile up prepositional phrases on each other. Having diagnosed the problem, though, his Paramedic Method for solving it worships at the altar of his Lard Factor, the ratio of his revised sentence to the original sentence length. Since he only deals at the sentence level, he rewrites each gargantuan sentence into exactly one smaller sentence, and this is where he goes wrong and often loses the meaning of the original sentence.

For instance, he takes this sentence:

Pelicans may also be vulnerable to direct oiling, but the lack of mortality data despite numerous spills in areas frequented by the species suggests that it practices avoidance.

And turns it into:

Pelicans seem to avoid oil spills by avoiding the oil.

Even by his own method, this sentence is far too long. It could just be:

Pelicans seem to avoid oil spills.

But, he goes on to ask immediately after "Have I left out anything essential?" He at least asks the question, but he doesn't answer it. This is where he fails. A good reviser retains meaning and has to ask himself what the original sentence actually asserts. Lanham is distracted by turning one sentence into one shorter sentence that his Paramedic Method doesn't stop to consider if one sentence should turn into two or more sentences. Assertions, the very reason we communicate, should be the priority.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Evans Thompson on February 16, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Take a deep breath, ignore the hefty price tag, and click Add to Cart. Lanham does a fantastic job providing simple techniques that allow anyone from the the casual writer to the technical writer streamline their prose to create clearer and more powerful sentences, paragraphs, and documents. As an English major, this book was by far the most helpful book I read to improve my writing.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
I first read this book in 1980 as a graduate student and it changed the way I write. I still remember the shock I felt then at learning that academic writing did not have to be tedious, wordy and stuffy. Everybody to whom I've given this book (back before it became so expensive)has also found that it radically changed their writing for the better.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "umd_cyberpunk" on September 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This slim writing guide by Prof. Lanham is a must have for anyone in the writing field, the business world or the government.
In under 150 pages, he attacks the "Little engine that couldn't," "is," & "to be," verbs, peoples' over use of prepositional phrases and the official dialoug.
"Revising Prose," uses strong verbs to get the Lanham's points across. HE breaks down his style and shows the reader how to use his "Paramedic Method," of reviewing and editing.
To hold his tradition in mind this review shall be short and to the point: students, politicians and the corporate world NEED this book to make themselves heard. Easy to follow and well written.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Rolnick on January 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
One of the most informative and entertaining books I've ever read. This book teaches concise writing methods. If bureaucrats around the world learned from this book, we'd save the old growth forests.
After I buy this copy, I will no longer lend it to my "friends", as this is the 4th copy which has disappeared.
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