Books & Literature

Book Review: How Writing Works: A Field Guide to Effective Writing, by Roslyn Petelin

A condensed guide to communications both print-based and online that will be useful for solo writers or those who work with other publishing professionals.

Do you misplace your modifiers? Can you tell an appositive phrase from one that’s prepositional? Perhaps you break out in a cold sweat when forced to make a decision about where to place an apostrophe? Roslyn Petelin’s new publication, How Writing Works, will help you sort out your pronouns and sharpen your syntax. No tears, just clear and engaging information for writers of all abilities.

Associate Professor Roslyn Petelin designed the University of Queensland’s Program in Writing, Editing, and Publishing, and also developed the WRITE101X English Grammar and Style online course. She has co-authored several other books on this topic (The Professional Writing Guide and Professional Communication) and works as a consultant in the areas of writing, editing, and information design. In How Writing Works, Petelin presents a condensed guide to communications both print-based and online. It will be useful for solo writers or those who work with other publishing professionals.

howwritingworks200The publication covers everything from big picture topics such as the reasons for writing and reading, to a sharp focus on design and structure, grammar and punctuation. There’s a chapter on digital writing (essential information for anyone holding the passwords to the work website or social media accounts) which extends to cover pitfalls and tips for using tools such as email, plus ways to minimise misunderstandings and boost the chances of receiving a useful response to written requests. This section alone makes the book a great purchase and a valuable resource for most workplaces.

Eleven chapters are each broken down into sub-topics then wrapped up with a ‘last word’ and a series of consolidation activities. These tips and reflective practice exercises can be used as a refresher or to help build new skills. Throughout the book there’s ongoing emphasis on writing to suit specific contexts, audience needs and modes of delivery. Petelin also promotes the benefits of keeping a journal. For writers, the value is in enhancing the writing–thinking–learning process. She explains how maintaining a double-entry or ‘dialogue’ journal deepens reflection beyond the act of merely reading what one wrote. It gives an opportunity to comment at a later date, enabling the writer to return and assess ideas.

How Writing Works explores the reasons why consistency is crucial, and offers tips on examining structure, organising information and making sure content flows in a meaningful sequence. Further inclusions range from checklists and flow charts to diagrams on topics such as briefing a designer, and analysing and parsing sentences. There are many handy hints on ‘what not to do’, and explanations covering things like malapropisms and the active versus passive voice. Along with answers to the activities, there are references, an index and suggestions for further reading.

This book is a great starting point for new speakers and writers of English and a wonderful addition to the bookshelf for those whose experience is greater. It’s hard to think of a better Christmas gift for anyone and everyone who works with words.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis

Rating out of 10: 10

Published by: Allen & Unwin
Released: October 2016
RRP: $39.99 softcover

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