Mignon Fogarty has the grammar franchise. Besides her popular Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips website, there are her books: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional (reviewed here). And now there is published her Ultimate Writing Guide for Students (Henry Holt, 294 pages, $19.99).
Apart from an excessive reliance on the color orange, which I cannot endorse on aesthetic grounds, this should be a highly useful book for the young writer.
It repackages much of the advice on punctuation, grammar, and usage in her previous books. It is sensible advice. She knows when between can be used with more than two parties. She knows that hopefully can be used as a sentence adverb, though she advises that ill-informed people get worked up over it.
What is new here is the more extensive advice on writing, and what she offers is solid. Suppress the editing function until you have a draft. Then prune the wordiness. Ease up on the metaphors. Vary the length of sentences. Eschew cliches. Read the text out loud to yourself. Proofread, word by word. As with grammar and usage, she is sensible.
Her tone throughout is relaxed, and her information and advice are more readily digestible than what students find in standard manuals, which tend to be stiff. This, perhaps, is her greatest strength. The information she offers can be found in many places (even though she is mercifully free of the bad information that is also to be found in many places). But her approach is one that suggests that this is a book students might use.
I’ve often added my voice to the jeremiads about students’ lack of skill in writing and the defective instruction that fosters that lack of skill. Here is a book to which the befuddled student, baffled by the complexities of the language, stunned by the conventions of formal writing, and staggered by inept or misguided instruction, can turn for help.
I venture that there are adult writers who would benefit from a tour of its pages as well.
But wait, there’s more: St. Martin’s Griffin has also brought out two small paperbacks ($5.99 each), Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again and Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know.
The former comes with the familiar set of words commonly confused—hoard and horde and all that lot. Here too she is sensible, explaining the stickler’s distinction between nauseous and nauseated while explaining that it is vanishing from the language.
The latter should be quite useful; schadenfreude, obtuse, and trepidation all represent concepts that should be mastered in the adult working world. There’s also one I didn’t know: xeriscape, a patch of land that requires little water. It’s a good day when there’s a new arrow in the quiver.