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Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers

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After a lifetime of writing and editing prose, Jacques Barzun has set down his view of the best ways to improve one's style. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Exercises, model passages both literary and casual, and hundreds of amusing ex After a lifetime of writing and editing prose, Jacques Barzun has set down his view of the best ways to improve one's style. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Exercises, model passages both literary and casual, and hundreds of amusing examples of usage gone wrong show how to choose the right path to self-expression in forceful and distinctive words.


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After a lifetime of writing and editing prose, Jacques Barzun has set down his view of the best ways to improve one's style. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Exercises, model passages both literary and casual, and hundreds of amusing ex After a lifetime of writing and editing prose, Jacques Barzun has set down his view of the best ways to improve one's style. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Exercises, model passages both literary and casual, and hundreds of amusing examples of usage gone wrong show how to choose the right path to self-expression in forceful and distinctive words.

30 review for Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    To be honest I couldn't finish this. I'll try again another time. For a book on simple and direct writing it struck me as remarkably convoluted and flowery, not to mention snobbish. There are better style books out there.

  2. 5 out of 5

    kaelan

    Funnily enough, I didn't find Barzun that great of a writer, although he certainly isn't a bad one. But the general thrust of his advice—write with a clear idea in mind, choose your words with care, don't overtax your reader—rings true. And it was humbling to discover that I have committed many of the literary gaffs of which he complains.

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Hold

    I've been revisiting some of the books that helped me get started. Simple & Direst offers a ton of useful advice, altho it's ain't necessarily the easiest book to get thru. I've been revisiting some of the books that helped me get started. Simple & Direst offers a ton of useful advice, altho it's ain't necessarily the easiest book to get thru.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    Some good take-always about things not to do, but a lot of this book felt stuffy and out-dated.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bailey

    SIMPLE AND DIRECT is anything but.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ray Edwards

    Oddly bloated for a book about simple writing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kaleb Horton

    Stuff you already know, phrased lean and tough. Mechanically inspiring.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Rush

    I feel somewhat abashed giving a book by the superb Jacques Barzun only two stars, but according to the authoritative site Goodreads (or "goodreads" as it wants to be known on its own page), two stars equates to "it was okay," and since Simple and Direct was okay, two stars it gets. I'm not really sure what the ultimate function of this book is: surely it's not a textbook for classroom use, as entire hordes of young people posing as students collectively work through revising sentences with dict I feel somewhat abashed giving a book by the superb Jacques Barzun only two stars, but according to the authoritative site Goodreads (or "goodreads" as it wants to be known on its own page), two stars equates to "it was okay," and since Simple and Direct was okay, two stars it gets. I'm not really sure what the ultimate function of this book is: surely it's not a textbook for classroom use, as entire hordes of young people posing as students collectively work through revising sentences with diction they've never heard (perhaps the original audience was familiar with his language, but none today); I certainly did not feel impelled to work through the exercises on paper - I was fine thinking through them while reading them. Toward the end Mr. Barzun gives us an extended survey of punctuation, but inscrutably he defines colons in contradistinction to his own usage throughout the book. Not to harp on its deficiencies, but organization, another facet of writing upon which Mr. Barzun attempts to instruct us, is almost wholly useless in this work. True, it has distinct chapter headings covering divers aspects of writing, helpful enough, but beyond that ... utter chaos. Mr. Barzun traipses merrily from sub-point to sub-point, devoid of meaningful connection or reference-work ease of finding/accessibility/utility. Mr. Barzun gives us wonderfully trenchant tips on diction, tone, style, revision ... while you're reading through the book. Aside from a virtually meaningless index, we have no realistic way of using this book as a reference tool for attacking individual writing errors. So read it ... once. Try to absorb as much as you can. Perhaps copy out the twenty basic rules for writing Mr. Barzun scatters throughout his pages for general guidelines of decent writing. Then ... give it to someone else. I doubt you're going to want to keep it for multiple uses.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    This book is simultaneously a radical call to arms for a “simple and direct” approach to all written language and an overwrought and pedantic style manual. It fails for me in both circumstances. I was hoping for something that taught “a rhetoric for writers” as an approach to writing itself, but instead I got a bloated Strunk & White. Every time you think he’s about to retreat to a macro level and get into something insightful, he drills back down into minutia that should be second hat to anyone This book is simultaneously a radical call to arms for a “simple and direct” approach to all written language and an overwrought and pedantic style manual. It fails for me in both circumstances. I was hoping for something that taught “a rhetoric for writers” as an approach to writing itself, but instead I got a bloated Strunk & White. Every time you think he’s about to retreat to a macro level and get into something insightful, he drills back down into minutia that should be second hat to anyone mildly educated in grammar or style or etymology. Perhaps the remedial student or ESL learner would find some benefit.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Akhil Jain

    - Every man has often found himself deficient in the power of expression, big with ideas which he could not utter, and unable to impress upon his reader the image existing in his own mind. —Dr. Johnson - I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate to the left or right, the readers will most certainly go into it. —C. S. Lewis - here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness. —Mark Twain

  11. 5 out of 5

    Benoit Blanchon

    You need to be very good in English to get the most of this book. In my case, there were many words that I wasn't able to understand. Sure, I learned from this book, but not as much as I hoped. The other problem with this book is that it doesn't give the answers to the exercises, but only hints, which doesn't allow learning by example.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gail Richmond

    A writers' guide to rhetoric first published in 1975, Barzun begins with fiction and covers most of the aspects of writing well: fiction; tone; audience; purpose; meaning; editing; and revision. Although some sections are dated, there is still valuable information included.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Overall, the book is accessible, but challenging. The author knows of what he writes. Yes, it is a little dated; however there is an edition from 2001 which I didn't see. This book is particularly meant for any who write prose, whether fiction or non-fiction. The author presents a lengthy, meaty chapter along with some exercises for the reader to try. At the end of each chapter, he gives an example of good writing from a variety of sources. At the end is an index of words, topics, and authors.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Chosen because I attempted read Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence; his magnus opus on western civilization. Much like From Dawn defends western civilization’s splendor and value, Simple & Direct serves bulwark against bad writing. Barzun gives his take on diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision to guide you like a college student through making your writing clear and pleasant to read. He also examples of bad writing and has a few soap box rants about the poor state of writing in Chosen because I attempted read Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence; his magnus opus on western civilization. Much like From Dawn defends western civilization’s splendor and value, Simple & Direct serves bulwark against bad writing. Barzun gives his take on diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision to guide you like a college student through making your writing clear and pleasant to read. He also examples of bad writing and has a few soap box rants about the poor state of writing in our civilization. His exercises throughout helps you learn the key ideas and the ‘Time out for good reading’ passages exemplify how to instead of how not to.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Emily Giuffre

    This book is anything BUT simple and direct. This was a very difficult read and even though the author gave examples of jargon, misplaced or misused words, and unnecessary phrases, I don't feel like a better writer for having read it. I would have preferred to have "before and after" examples of clearly edited essays. Not entirely a bad book....just not for the layman.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    This is a nice writing tutorial but not what I was looking for. Barzun takes a methodical approach, starting with words and working his way out to paragraphs and compositions. He includes writing and reading exercises, for practice. I would say it's pitched to undergraduate and graduate students.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Very good so far

  18. 4 out of 5

    Graham Mumm

    Hard to read straight through (I suggest doing it lesson tip at a time) but overall a good guide to writing well.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Very useful tips. Shows how language "works." Some stuff you would find in any common grammar on the English language. Further, he doesn't always elaborate some of the tips.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Schultz

    Helps with sentence structure. Good for post-graduates.

  21. 4 out of 5

    untogether

    Simple & direct: A rhetoric for writers (A Cass Canfield book) by Jacques Barzun (1975) Simple & direct: A rhetoric for writers (A Cass Canfield book) by Jacques Barzun (1975)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    rec'd by tim ferriss -> http://foundation.kr/ rec'd by tim ferriss -> http://foundation.kr/

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott Harris

    No nonsense guide on writing and writing elegantly.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dedelytle

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rosa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy Koerber

  29. 5 out of 5

    Wesley Yu

  30. 4 out of 5

    S.m. Bucklin

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