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Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little Hardcover – July 25, 2011
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“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
“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
“Think big. Write small. Read Microstyle.”
- George Lakoff, author of The Political Mind
“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
“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.
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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 smartercomics.com
This book has a place on my reference shelf.
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.)
We think we know how to use language to express ourselves but we don't really understand how language actually works, how words actually end up being expressive and meaningful.
The linguist in Johnson reminds us that when we communicate the words we use don't directly transmit the meaning. Rather it's the other way around - the person we're communicating with uses the words we send as clues to form concepts and meaning. And Johnson wants us to be better at extracting more meaning out of fewer words. In writing in a Web age, shorter is better; it's also an imperative.
Language, Johnson says with characteristic glibness, is getting control of ambiguity so that it doesn't come back and bite you in the ass. He gives us a microstyle field guide to getting by in a verbal wilderness by slicing the book into four sections: Meaning, Sound, Structure and Social Context.
Each of the sections is sprinkled liberally with examples from pop culture, the slogans, headlines, tweets and ads that are our verbal commerce. He guides us to the principles he believes important: Clarity ("Tastes Great, Less Filling"), Push Buttons ("You Deserve a Break Today"), Metaphor ("The Other White Meat") and of course, Simplicity ("Just Do It").
"Microstyle" Johnson says playfully is a good primer if you're ever planning to have dinner with Tina Fey. The book is slick and entertaining more than it's useful and instructive. (For useful and instructive you still can't beat Strunk & White.)
There isn't a whole lot of substance in the 250 pages. I kept asking myself "Where's the Beef?" It's fun but also a little fatuous and after about 100 pages it becomes a tad repetitious. But still, it's a relatively short read and always distinctly readable.