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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on general writing skills
I have been running writing courses for over a decade and have looked through many books on clear writing. Overall, I think this is the most helpful. I recommend it to attendees.

It even has a section on how to manage colleagues' writing. Many people who come on a writing course want their boss to attend too; to learn the real 'rules'!
Published on 27 May 2006 by windsor_lad

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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generally sound, but better guides are available
The advice offered is usually sound, but the topics aren't treated evenly: Some pages are filled with waffle, while important points aren't discussed in enough details. I apologize for the long review that follows, but I have tried to give some concrete examples of the weak points. A guide that I would recommend instead is Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style', which is...
Published on 3 Aug. 2010 by Adam Nohejl


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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on general writing skills, 27 May 2006
I have been running writing courses for over a decade and have looked through many books on clear writing. Overall, I think this is the most helpful. I recommend it to attendees.

It even has a section on how to manage colleagues' writing. Many people who come on a writing course want their boss to attend too; to learn the real 'rules'!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars easily the best handy grammar guide, 25 May 2009
By 
I bought copies for my daughters who both use them at work and swear by this very handy and accessible guide. As an English teacher, I have a shelf full of grammar books and dictionaries but was so impressed I bought one for myself too. I am recommending it to all my students. 'The Plain Words' is still my 'Bible' though!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very instructive, and funny., 5 July 2008
By 
P. Charmoy (CH) - See all my reviews
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The book is clear and concise. I learnt a lot, and the content is clearly applicable to more than English. But probably the crowning touch is that Mr. Cutts managed to write a book that is quite funny to read. Anybody having to write occasionally should have a copy.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generally sound, but better guides are available, 3 Aug. 2010
By 
Adam Nohejl - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
The advice offered is usually sound, but the topics aren't treated evenly: Some pages are filled with waffle, while important points aren't discussed in enough details. I apologize for the long review that follows, but I have tried to give some concrete examples of the weak points. A guide that I would recommend instead is Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style', which is much more concise, and while it doesn't discuss the same range of topics, it is infinitely clearer and more useful. It also promotes plain English (and does so in a more sensible way, I would say). I thought that I would learn something new from Cutts' 'Plain English', which is more than twice as long and includes chapters about planning, revising, email, and web, but the corresponding points were less clear, and the ones not present in 'Elements of Style' were nearly useless. Here are some examples of what disappointed me:

* In some cases no useful advice is given.

(1) The whole chapter about punctuation lacks a clear systematical approach. 'The Elements of Style' by Strunk and White give much clearer advice on about 13 pages. Instead of clearly explaining guidelines for structuring sentences using punctuation, the 'Plain English' guide includes unnecessary examples of misuse of punctuation and then discusses relatively unimportant issues, for instance on ellipsis (p. 95):

"There should be three dots in the ellipsis, not two, five, or seven. However, a book reviewer tells me that when a phrase trails off unfinished, the US practice is to use four dots." [...] "Some typesetters insist on adding a fourth dot when a sentence ends with an ellipsis [...]".

Instead the author should have chosen one approach and explained it. For some reason, a short section about capitals (uppercase) have been added to this chapter, perhaps because it would need to be expanded to stand on its own.

(2) When advocating split infinitives, Cutts focuses on examples of good use of them, but does not explain how to decide whether the split infinitive is appropriate in a particular context. In a list of split infinitives he spotted in Daily Telegraph (which normally tries to avoid them) since 1995 he includes "resigned myself to never experiencing". But this a gerund, not an infinitive, and other word order would not make sense. (In the previous section he pokes fun at a teacher who confounded adverbs and preposition, and doesn't forget to mention him by name.) More importantly, all this is unnecessary waffle, instead of really useful guidelines.

(3) The chapters on email, web and layout either should not have been included or should have been confined to basic points and explain them clearly. In "Good practice with email", Cutts advises to delete "Re" from subject (which he calls "heading") if automatically inserted by the email software. Does he know that this is a standard way of indicating a reply? One page is devoted to abbreviations (such as "u" for you, "pls" for please) and emoticons which are "better to avoid in semi-formal or formal emails". In the chapter about web, he gets into technicalities without explaining them or even referring to them correctly (for instance "alt tag"). (There are some useful guidelines in the chapter, but they are lost among technicalities and things that should really belong to different chapters.)

* Occasionally, the author gives an unconventional recommendation without explanation:

For instance on p. 80: "There's no need to use full stops in people's names or in abbreviations or acronyms -- Mr J C Bennett, [...] eg, ie, 8am, 9pm -- unless there's a genuine change of ambiguity [...]". I can't see how this improves clarity. I also wonder why the author uses a full stop in "etc.", while he does not recommend it in "e.g." or "i.e.". The same goes for punctuation in vertical lists and many other minor topics.

* The word lists are nearly useless.

I would expect word lists to get more attention in a book that boasts "expert advice on vocabulary" in the first point on its back cover:

(1) The "Plain English word lists" (p. 22) suggests that you replace "polemical" with "controversial", "category" with "group", etc., to avoid sounding "pompous, officious, and long-winded". Of course, one shouldn't not misuse "polemical" for "controversial", but replacing "polemical" with "controversial" does not make sense either. I understand the author's point, but the list without further explanation isn't very helpful.

(2) The list "Words often confused" (p. 36), which lists "similar-sounding words", includes among its meagre 16 entries both words as unlikely to be confused as "hone/home" and words that are not confused because of similar sound such as "imply/infer". The choice seems haphazard.

(3) The "Foreign words" list (p. 39) lists "per diem" as "per day" and "pro forma" as "form", while the former is often used as a noun meaning "daily allowance for living expenses" and the latter is often used as an adverb or adjective meaning "(done) as a matter of form". Again, the choice of words seems haphazard. It isn't clear who should use the table. If used to revise someone else's writing without being familiar with the words, it could cause more harm than good.

(4) The lists of "commonest words" in the appendix, which are meant for checking whether a word is common enough, are not in alphabetical order. Useless for searching.

PS: Please, do not beat me for my English: I'm not a native speaker and I'm sure that there are a lot of mistakes and awkward wordings in this review. By the way, I found it remarkable that while the author promotes writing for wide audience including non-native readers, the book itself is written without non-native readers (i.e. writers who would read the guide) in mind. It is quite difficult even for an advanced non-native speaker to decide what is plain, but appropriate, English, and to avoid being pompous when trying to be formal. A chapter specifically targeted at them (us) would be very helpful.
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4.0 out of 5 stars You'll enjoy this one--initially, 28 Aug. 2011
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
Why do letters from my insurance company end with the anodyne statement: " Please don't hesitate to contact us should we be able to be of further assistance" or " I trust that you have been fully informed". Is stodgy-sounding officialese a standard course in insurance school? Luckily, official writing does not have to be as stilted as my insurance company's. This wonderful book, The Oxford Guide to Plain English, is a breath of fresh air.

With large doses of wit, Martin Cutts deflates the notion--which most of us learned in school--that the passive voice is the best way to communicate. The active voice, considered too 'forward', too 'in your face' was discredited all my life; however, with Cutts, the active voice in me was re-awakened. This book provides a simple, terse overview of the best way to write: in plain, abecedarian English. After reading The Oxford Guide to Plain English, I cannot read official letters--from the local government and the insurance companies--in the same way. Martin Cutts does an excellent job of reminding the reader that the best form of communication is direct, reader-centric and playful. For this achievement, this book deserves four stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxford Guide to Plain English, 5 Feb. 2010
By 
Molly Malone (Winchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
I saw this guide mentioned in The Times and bought it for my son, in the hope that it would improve the appalling standard of his e-mails.

The book provides excellent advice on writing e-mails - as well as letter writing - but only time will tell if he acts on this advice!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful and helpful - and easy to read, 25 Oct. 2009
By 
Andreas Kirsch (Germany) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
I read it while writing my bachelor thesis, and thanks to it I could improve its readability and clarity a lot. It's an easy and fun read. I didn't know about the concept of "Plain English" before but now I totally embrace it :)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime !, 6 Nov. 2012
By 
Duncurin (Manchester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
This amazing little book is almost a metaphor for the language about which it seeks to enlighten. It's easy to read, beautifully presented and places precise facts clearly and succinctly. Most importantly, it allows anyone with an interest in this subject to assemble sentences that are unambiguous, easy to understand and yet are a delight to read. I used to worry that pursuit of learning in this most wonderful of languages would mark me as something of a pedant; but this slim volume plots a course between the detail that would be excessive and the knowledge that I seek. And, of course, just like our language, can be summed up with just one word. Sublime!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 10 Dec. 2009
By 
Thomas Pots "T Pots" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oxford Guide to Plain English (Paperback)
I write for a living, so am well-versed in plain English. I bought this book as a bit of light reading, but it's actually really useful. It covers things that any professional author ought to know well, so it has not been much of a teaching aid to me. However, it has been very handy in that it helped me refocus my attention on what I do, and how I do it.

The book is stuffed with amusing examples or poor writing, and examples of how they could be improved. This is augmented by a wealth of pithy comments, and plenty of tips for better writing. Oddly, it does not mention the dreaded "passive voice", though it does refer to active verbs and so on.

Any book pontificating on writing style (any any review thereof!) will inevitably fall foul of itself. So it goes with this book where, in its efforts to show us the way, produces some nasty grammatical faux pas of its own (albeit very few). I suppose that just goes to show how difficult it is to write perfect English.

Overall, it is a really good book for the money. If I lost my copy, I think I would buy another.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent reference book, 21 April 2009
By 
J. Byrom - See all my reviews
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Great little book - not too long to read, and then there is a useful summary of Guidelines at beginning as a quick reference.
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Oxford Guide to Plain English
Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts (Paperback - 27 Aug. 2009)
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