Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California, USA)
This less expensive version of Richard Lanham's acclaimed Revising Prose (5th Edition) reprints its 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 come with the author's solutions anyway, I suggest an easy procedure to make either version self-teaching:
First, read the book through -- won't take long; it's slim.
Second, on a separate page note down each statement 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 in the complete edition, see my review of the complete book.)
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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 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 "Revising Prose," his witty and blessedly brief book, Lanham gifts a five-star jewel to all expository writers.