The Gettysburg Approach to Writing and Reading Like a Professional by Philip A. Yaffe
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Have you ever noticed that books about effective writing talk only about effective writing and books about effective public speaking talk only about public speaking, and never the twain meet?
"This is a mistake," says Philip Yaffe, former writer with The Wall Street Journal and long-time international marketing communication executive. "If you write well you will probably speak well; if you write poorly you will probably speak poorly. Writing and speaking are intimately related and should be considered together, rather than as distinct disciplines"
To demonstrate the point, Mr. Yaffe's recently published book, The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional, addresses the challenge head on.
Inspired by Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, the book examines the handful of underlying principles and practices that make this miniature masterpiece (only 272 words) perhaps the greatest single piece of prose and oratory in history.
“The principles of effective writing and speaking are few and easy to understand," he asserts. "Unfortunately, in most books on the subject, they are buried under an avalanche of verbiage about technique.” The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional clearly separates principle from practice. The “theoretical” section of the book is very short, supplemented by a series of appendices of illuminating examples and exercises.
As the author points out, "Almost everyone agrees that a well-written text must be clear and concise. However, hardly anyone can tell you what these criteria mean in any practical, applicable way."
For example, if you try to define "clarity", you will probably do something like this:
Question: What makes this text clear?
Answer: It is easy to understand.
Question: What makes it easy to understand?
Answer: It is simple.
Question: What do you mean by simple?
Answer: It is clear.
You in fact end up going around in a circle. The text is clear because it is easy to understand . . . because it is simple . . . because it is clear.
“All of these words are synonyms. While synonyms may have nuances, they do not have content, so you are still left to your own subjective appreciation. However, what you think is clear may not be clear to someone else,” Mr. Yaffe explains.
The book describes quasi-objective tests for clarity and conciseness. “If your text fails these tests, then it needs to be revised. If it passes them, then—and only then—should you concentrate on the mechanics of language (style, grammar, syntax, etc.) in order to make your already good text even better.”
The Gettysburg Approach also defines and describes a test for “density". This seldom-discussed third pillar of effective writing concerns ordering information for best effect.
Mr. Yaffe then shows that the basic principles of effective writing and effective speaking are essentially the same, but with some subtle and important differences in application. "The speaker can use eye contact, intonation, body language and other techniques not available to the writer to convey his message. However, as with printed words, if spoken words are not clear, concise and dense, the speech is destined to fail. Stage presence is the frosting on the cake; it must never be mistaken for the cake itself."
Returning to his underlying inspiration, in an appendix Mr. Yaffe compares Abraham Lincoln to William Shakespeare. "It is remarkable that The Gettysburg Address, a work of non-fiction, and the Marc Anthony soliloquy on the assassination of Julius Caesar, a work of pure fiction, technically have so much in common. This is further proof that the guiding principles of effective writing and effective speaking don't just overlap—they are virtually identical.
"Treating writing and speaking as distinct disciplines not only makes them more difficult to learn. It virtually ensures that neither one will ever be properly mastered."
The Gettysburg Approach is rich in feisty and original insights and observations. Although deeply didactic, it is anything but dull. As one reviewer enthused, “This book is really fun to read.”
(The above was taken from the Press Release for this title).