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Revising Prose [Paperback]

Richard A. Lanham
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 20 Aug 1991 --  
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Revising Prose Revising Prose 4.0 out of 5 stars (2)
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Book Description

20 Aug 1991 0023674458 978-0023674457 3rd edition

This remarkable little book, intended as a supplement for any course that requires writing, models a clear, step-by-step system for creating straight-forward, concise, intelligible and readable prose.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Macmillan USA; 3rd edition edition (20 Aug 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0023674458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0023674457
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,020,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

University of California, Los Angeles --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clarifying Edition Info 29 Jan 2010
If anyone else is wondering about the difference between this item and Richard Lanham's "Longman Guide to Revising Prose" (currently less than one third of the price) this book contains an additional 30 pages of Appendix and Exercises in which can be found a brief outline of terms, grammar and meter and 35 short passages or sentences to analyze according to Lanham's Paramedic's Rules, identify the problems in, and correct.

The book is useful, but I was mostly interested in clarifying the difference between the two editions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very helpful 25 Aug 2010
This book certainly helps in transiting from a writer of impassable prose to a graceful writer. While your style will improve after reading the book, it is not the 'holy grail'
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
57 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fast Method for Revising Good Writing into Great Writing 13 Mar 2010
By C. J. Singh - Published on Amazon.com
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;
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. Let's 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.

[Addendum: Richard Lanham's 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.)]
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but could be much better 4 Aug 2011
By brian d foy - Published on Amazon.com
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.

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.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book to improve your nonfiction prose writing 16 Feb 2000
By Evans Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
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.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book about writing 9 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making the bureaucratic readable 7 Sep 2001
By "umd_cyberpunk" - Published on Amazon.com
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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