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Operating Procedures: Vigorous Writing
Make Every Word Tell
In the year 1918 Professor William Strunk, Jr. wrote the book Elements of Style; it was enlarged and updated by E.B. White in the year 1959. (The fourth edition of the book, usually referred to as ‘Strunk and White’, was published in the year 2000.) Although written all those years ago, the advice in the book should be used by anyone writing operating procedures in the year 2023.
The following quotation lies at the heart of Strunk’s writing philosophy.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
His use of engineering design as an analogy for writing style should resonate with those writing operating and maintenance procedures. In particular, they should always,
Make every word tell.
In the next few posts, we will show how Professor Strunk’s advice can be applied by those writing procedures. We will consider,
The use of short, pithy instructions,
Avoidance of the repetition of instructions,
Omission of needless words,
Omission of adverbs,
The use of short and old words, and
Avoidance of wordy phrases and padded syllables.
(These thoughts are mostly taken from the book Process Risk and Reliability Management.)
Elements of Style will always be useful and important. Of it, the poet Dorothy Parker famously said,
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy.
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