<span style=”color: #000000;”>In report writing, even more than in other types of writing, writers need to own and use good reference books. There are any number of reasons why, but the main reason is that report writing isn’t poetry, so the writing isn’t naturally beautiful or sibilant. Report writing must be correct writing because mistakes have no enjambment of line nor new stanza to hide behind. Report writing is just the facts, ma’am, and no extraneous information included. Now, my much beloved readers, the happy part of this aspect of report writing is that report writers don’t have to get creative to complete their writing task. Without ornament, writing must be clean, meaning the most accurate words are used with simple sentences and clear prose—complicated doesn’t equal good at all. To get precise and clearly written prose, reference books are necessary. Using reference books while you are writing will save you many tears and could possibly prevent you from pulling out your own hair in the heat of stressful moments in writing. And writing, as most of you know, can be a series of stressful moments. The English language is the largest language there is or ever has been in human history, so it is just nearly impossible to remember every rule. Do yourself a favor and buy the following books:
(When I figure out links better, insert these books’ links. The Elements of Style, Rules for Writers, Prentice Hall Reference Guide, The Least You Should Know about English, Evergreen, Grassroots, COMP 1, Business Writing Text, Business Writing handbook.
At 85 pages, reading and using my third edition of The Elements of Style is not mountain-climbing. The information writers need is densely summarized and easily understood. There is no bad or unnecessary information in this text. It is not unduly opinionated nor arcane in its approach to writing. This reference work is just a pleasure.
I keep two more at my fingertips:
Both of these books are handy reference books. Handy means they are easy to use and come straight to the point, like the right tool for the job does. They are both excellent for using as a reference while you are composing. I have an attachment to the first selection because I actually learned my English writing rules from an earlier version of it and know where everything I forget is located in the book. And the second text I have taught from so much that I also have all the pertinent locations memorized. No, you don’t have to do crazy stuff like remember the structure of a writing text to be a good writer, but you could sticky note your problem areas for easy reference the next time you have to look something up in the book to be sure you have it right. You don’t have to be any crazier or artistic than you wish to be. Good writers come in every stripe.
Lastly, you need a comprehensive dictionary source such as http://www.thefreedictionary.com to back up your writing program’s dictionary. I use Word and frequently stump its dictionary feature. http://www.the free dictionary.com has a thesaurus and other cool features like daily word games. If you are writing, everything about words feeds your skill. One brief warning about your choice of words: never, never, ever us a big, conflated word when a common word works better. The only time you may feel justified using a $25.00 word is when you want to say twenty-five dollars. Other writers will come to my home and beat me if I don’t remind you that in addition to heeding good reference works, writing precise prose with accurate words, and drafting and re-drafting, YOU MUST READ CONSTANTLY TO BECOME BETTER AT WRITING! For teachers like me, it is a sad but true fact that the number one way to write better is to read more. Reading the publications in your field will help you immeasurably by giving you an ear for how people in your field write, paying particular attention to the citation method used in your field. Significantly the close second to reading for writing improvement is writing for writing improvement, so if you want to writer better, then write more.
If you feel like you may need a review, and even if you don’t. . .
In line with my pet theory that less is often more, I recommend this book:
True to its title, The Least will teach you the minimal basic writing skills you need to write reports or any other formal writing projects you may choose to write. This text superbly does one essential task–it reviews all those small English writing facts that have slipped your mind since grade school, and with your diligent study, it will remind you how to use all those little facts to recall and properly execute writing. Our brains like to blow by everything we estimate will no help us in the moment, but this winnowing often leaves us short of the smaller rules and bites that become essential to good writing. You will find grammar, usage, and punctuation exercises and the answers to them in this book, so you can work through it independently. Some of you may not think you need this sort of refresher, but believe me, you do. In over twenty years teaching university English writing courses, I never met any student who didn’t need an English refresher on a regularly scheduled basis, and in fact, no competent writer will tell you s/he knows all there is to know about English grammar, construction, usage, and punctuation. It is just too complex a language to memorize all the minutiae involved in writing it. There is always more to learn and new ways to use the learning. Use the helper books!
In this vein, there are many other books to choose from. If you think you need a more comprehensive review, I recommend any or all of the following books:
My last recommendation is a technical writing handbook. None of these are fun. I don’t suggest that you read one cover to cover, but I do suggest that you read any chapters about the specific report writing you will be doing.
And, to stay current on style changes, buy some type of up-to-date handbook:
Keep reading and writing!