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Discussing Williams, chapters 3, 4, and 5

Here’s a place to discuss chapters 3, 4, and 5 of Joseph Williams’ Style:  Toward Clarity and Grace. By the way, let me remind everyone that in order to get the best grade for participation, you need to post at the beginning of the conversation, meaning that you should have posted about Williams first on Monday and now on this next section today.  This is on my mind in part because I’ll soon be calculating participation grades for the first half of the term.

My notes/thoughts after the “continued” part.

Chapter 3: Cohesion

  • Clarity is about “good style” within sentences; Cohesion is about “good style” between sentences– that is, how different sentences relate to each other. We don’t read sentences individually; we read sentences together.
  • To sort of sum-up the rule (as he does at the end of the chapter on page 64), you generally want to begin a sentence with “old information” and then introduce “new information” at the end of a sentence.
  • But as Williams points out on page 48, cohesion requires a bit of a balancing act with other rules.
  • Pages 50-51 introduce the idea of psychological subjects, which are potentially different than grammatical subjects.
  • Some good ideas and examples on managing you subjects and Topics on page 54; and again, really solid advice on the top of 56 with “Two Principles.”
  • “Audience as Topic” on pages 57-59 interesting, and again, notice how different this is from S&W.  While Strunk and White seem to have in mind a sort of “universal” style, Williams is pointing out that you have to tailor it to an audience.
  • I don’t want to dwell on the examples from Lincoln and Jefferson on pages 60 through 64, but worthwhile reading carefully.
  • Finally, the concluding bits about the chapter.  The example on the top of page 65 is one of my favorite in the book because it clearly demonstrates how a writer can control the “meaning” of a paragraph by controlling the topic of a paragraph.  If you are the doctor being sued for malpractice, you would probably write the first paragraph to defend yourself.  If you were the patient doing the suing, you would probably write the second paragraph.

Chapter 4: Emphasis

  • Basically, this chapter talks about how the emphasis of most sentences tends to be at the end, which is where you should put the more important information of a sentence.
  • The “managing endings” section in pages 68 through 73 pretty key, and I personally find myself using some of the “tricks” Williams talks about on the bottom of page 72 about repeating phrases.
  • Good example on pages 74 and 75.  I know they are complicated and long, but they do point out how to emphasize complicated information depending on your audience.  And then at the top of page 75, Williams sums up (emphasizes?) his strategies for revision.
  • Personally, I’ve never really understood the example from Joan Didion on pages 76-77.
  • “Clarity as a system” on page 78 (and if the charts work for you, that’s great!)
  • I completely agree with Williams’ last paragraph in this chapter, about how we all speak in many voices, all of which are equally “authentic.”  Somehow, I think Strunk and White assume a single and unified authentic voice….

Chapter 5: Coherence I

  • Bottom of 81/top of 82 outline the 5 principles of coherence, which is really about the organization of paragraphs and also of complete documents.
  • “Thematic Strings” are tricky to understand, but Williams kind of explains it on 84 and 85, based on the previous examples.  They are more or less “topics” in paragraphs, kind of like “topic sentences,” but not quite.
  • Another good example on 86 and 87. Again, it’s kind of long, but if you compare the paragraph on page 86 with the one on 87 that has been revised to be “more explicit” in terms of a “topic string,” I think you can see where Williams is going.  Also on page 87, Williams has an interesting take on the advice about “vary your word choice.”
  • Where to put the string? Good point on 89, but Williams talks about the thematic string going elsewhere, too.
  • Page 92: Paragraph = Issue + Discussion (great point)
  • Page 94 and 95 actually offers some good advice on revising paragraphs– something we haven’t seen yet in Williams and which we didn’t see much of at all in the S&W book.

Posted in Class Readings.


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