- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Pearson; 5 edition (July 20, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0321441699
- ISBN-13: 978-0321441690
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Revising Prose: (5th Edition) 5th Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
“The history of the new regulatory provisions is that there is generally an immediate resistance to them”
“People usually resist new regulations.”
(5th edition, p. 5).
As interesting as it is, that’s basically it. The book then goes the next 150 pages giving examples after examples of the same type of issues. To make his life easier, he creates the most outrageously verbose phrases only to correct it immediately below. But his point is well taken.
Here and there the book makes other comments too, some more interesting than others. But this book is very limited if your objective is to learn writing style or how to revise prose.
The first 4 chapters (up to p. 67), repetitive as they are, are the only ones worth reading. Chapters 5 and 6 on business and professional prose are only a repetition of the repetition. I couldn’t bring myself to read all examples so I skimmed the text. Chapter 7 proposes the use of colors and movement of the fonts in computers, which disqualify the chapter for serious writers. Chapter 8 is unintelligible philosophical mumbo jumbo.
Better and more complete books on style are (1) Williams and Bizup, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, (2) Zinsser, On Writing Well, and of course (3) Strunk and White.
Did I say that at $47.00 the 166-page book is indecently expensive?
The book is good at what it does, but this would be a wonderful 30-page article. As a book on style or revising prose, it gets 3 stars, but I give 2 because it's so outrageously expensive.
Reviewed by Dr 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;
6. Read the passage aloud with emphasis and feeling;
7. Write out each sentence on a blank screen or sheet of paper and mark off its basic rhythmic units with a "/";
8. Mark off sentence length with a "/."
Basically, Lanham's Paramedic Method advises you to delete prepositional phrases and "is" forms and replace them with active verbs.
Below are four brief examples and a test-yourself exercise from the book.
Original sentence: "Physical satisfaction is the most obvious of the consequences of premarital sex."
Revision: "Premarital sex satisfies!Obviously!" (page 3).
Instead of 12 words, 4. Lanham labels this achieved concision as the "Lard Factor." It's computed as the number of words in the original sentence minus the number of words in the revised sentence, divided by the original number of words. Here, the Lard Factor is: 12 minus 4, divided by 12 equals 0.66 or 66 percent.
Original sentence: "Perception is the process of extracting information from stimulation emanating from objects, places, and events in the world around us."
Revision: "Perception extracts information from the outside world" (page 8).
Instead of 21 words, 7. The original sentence has five prepositions, the revision just one -- preposition deletion ratio of 5 to 1. Lard Factor computes to 66 percent.
Original: "In light of the pervasive problem of overcrowding at UC Lone Pine, providing another coffee house on campus would offer the university's growing population some kind of compensatory convenience."
Revision: "Overcrowded UC Lone Pine needs another coffee house" (page 70).
Lard Factor: 75 percent
Original: "Hypertext was invented to facilitate the process of navigating through a presentation of interrelated topics." Revision: "Hypertext was invented to navigate through interrelated topics" (page 72).
Lard Factor: 55 percent
In this complete book, Lanham provides 35 exercises for the readers to try on their own. I'll pick one at random.
Exercise 14: Original: "The manner in which behavior first shown in a conflict situation may become fixed so that it persists after the conflict has passed is then discussed" (page 154).
My revision: Next, discussion proceeds to behavior persistence after conflict.
Instead of 26 words, 8.
Lard Factor: 70 percent.
If the original sentence comes from one or more authors, I'd revise it: Next, I/we discuss behavior persistence after conflict.
Lard Factor: 73 percent.
or: Next, I/we discuss post-conflict behavior persistence.
Lard Factor: 80 percent.
Try it. You'd probably do better than my quick efforts.
In "Revising Prose," his witty and blessedly brief book, Lanham gifts a five-star jewel to all expository writers.
Richard Lanham's book also appears in a less expensive version Longman Guide to Revising Prose that reprints the 134-page main text. The excluded 30 pages comprise a brief glossary of grammatical terms and 35 exercises for the reader.)
Since the 35 exercises in the complete book do not present the author's solutions anyway, I suggest an easy procedure to make either version self-teaching as follows.
First, read the book through -- it won't take long; it's slim.
Second, note down on an index card each example of the flabby sentences in the main text that includes the author's solution.
Third, do each of these examples on your own and compare your solution with the author's.
(For my sample solution to one of the 35 exercises without the author's solution, take a look near the end of this review of the complete book.)
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.
In the Pelican example, there are several assertions:
* There is no mortality data
* There are numerous oil spills in the area
* Someone thinks pelicans might be vulnerable to direct oiling (as opposed to shipping?)
* The oil doesn't seem to affect pelicans
* Someone (who?) guesses the pelicans just avoid the oil
In Lanham's revision, he only conveys the last assertion, which is not only the least interesting one, but the least supported one. Most of the original sentence is about someone's conjecture about the problem and its effect. The qualifications are necessary to let the reader judge the information correctly. The revision removes that completely. A better, but longer, revision might be:
We think pelicans are vulnerable to oil spills, but we haven't found many dead pelicans among the numerous oil spills. Maybe they avoid the spills.
I find the proper analysis also lacking from his discussion of the active voice, where he might use an active verb but doesn't choose the right actor. That sentence is not about pelicans. It's about someone drawing conclusions about pelicans. Even in Lanham's own writing, the passive voice is common and misguided.
He's quite proud of "skotison", the word he uses to describe inflated prose, and uses an example of Alexander Pope's translation of a poem into plain english. Pope's satire isn't the basis for an editorial philosophy though, as it loses almost all intended meaning just as Lanham's pelican example does. Poems don't exist to codify a series of actions. Instead, they try to describe perception and feeling, using imagery as best it can. Simply saying "shut the door" does not do that. It's cold, sterile, and utterly boring.
As such, if you are not a writer or an editor, this is a decent enough book to start your revisioning education for your own material. However, it's not a good enough guide to become even a decent editor. There's too much that the Paramedic Method ignores.