Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three Fundamental Principles of Writing

I have read a lot about how to write well. It was only recently that I had the "ah ha" moment. Philip Yaffe hits the nail on the head on the three principles of writing. The earlier things which I read about writing are tips and techniques which tell you what and how to do. Fundamental principles should tell you why you need to do so.

Once we understand the "why", it will help us to understand the "what and how" portion and we will then apply them wholeheartedly.


Three Fundamental Principles of Writing

Below is an extract from Philip Yaffe, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal on writing. I could not agree with him more. He has also cast it into mathematical formulae to add strength and substance to the principles.

Principle 1: Clarity = Emphasize * De-emphasize * Eliminate

We will need to decide at the onset the points which are the most important and emphasize accordingly. This is not always easy. It is far simpler to say that everything is of key importance, so we put in everything we have. However, unless we do the work of defining what we really want our audience to know, the audience won't get our point. They will simply get lost in our verbiage and either give up or never realize what they were supposed to learn.

For those of secondary importance, we will need to de-emphasize them so that readers know what the key takeaways are. Details (information of secondary importance) explain and support the key ideas. They must never overwhelm them.

To enhance clarity, we will need to eliminate information that serves no purpose. Otherwise, they will obsure the key points and add to confusion.

Principle 2: Conciseness = Long * Short

This is an interesting principle - we should elaborate as long as we need to for the main points. However, we need to do in the shortest way possible. As short as possible means staying as close as you can to the minimum. Not because people prefer short text, in the abstract, the terms "long" and "short" have no meaning. The important point is: All words beyond the minimum tend to damage clarity. Subconsciously, readers will continually try to understand why those words are there, and will continually fail because they serve no purpose.

Principle 3: Density = Precise Information * Logically Linked

This is a less oft-encountered principle. Use precise information rather than wishy-washy weasel words will aid clarity. An example will be instead of a "hot" day, if we can mention the temperature, everyone will better understand the intensity of the heat. Using precise information also builds the audience's confidence in your knowledge of the subject.

Precise facts - data - are insufficient alone. To be meaningful, data must be organized to create "information". Apply thse two important tests when converting data into information:

Data Test One: Relevance - Is a particular piece of data really needed? Any information that fails to aid understanding or promote audience confidence should be rigorously eliminated.

Data Test Two: Misconceptions - The logical link between data must be made explicit to prevent the audience from coming to false conclusions. To ensure that a logical link is clear, place the two pieces of data as close to each other as possible, preferably right next to each other. When data are widely separated, their logical link is masked.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stock Market in 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I have attended a seminar on the stock market. This blog is to share with my readers, the insights which I have gleaned from the seminar with my two-cents' worth. A disclaimer here, the below represents only my personal opinion and it does not constitute any investment proposition. I hope that by sharing, we will all be more knowledgable and financially savvy.

As the world economy recovers from the Great Recession and the governments around will be reining in the money that is pumped into the system. For the governments, they will want to stock market to continue to go up as they have a stake in it. However, with so much money floating around, inflationary pressure is also building up. The tip here is not to "buy and hold" but to buy and sell when you make money.

In terms of IPOs, this year could see a bumper listing. Most people like to buy IPOs because these are "fresh" companies to be publicly listed. They would have met the stringent criteria set up by the authorities. As with the rest of the shares, if you were to buy, sell when you make profit as the market is expected to be volatile this year.

With inflationary risk going up, gold prices - traditionally, a hedge against inflation though not so in the long run - are also heading north. Though, gold prices are currently at historical high, when compared against Singapore currency, gold prices are not that high. The reason being, Singapore currency is getting stronger. So there is a likelihood that gold prices will continue to rise.

Besides gold prices, there are other tangible commodities which would also experience upward price pressures. These are crude oil, liquid gas and agriculture. However, governments are likely to try to keep these prices low as the prices of these commodities will go into the computation of CPI which mean higher inflation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two-in-One Blogpost on Toastmasters' Club Meeting

This is a short two-in-one blogpost on what I have learnt at my Feb and Mar 2010 Toastmasters Club Meeting.

I loved the title by CC Raymond Yuen "Greed is a Devil". It was short and very attention grabbing. Other titles which were good included "It is not about me, but you", "Small change, big change". For the latter, small change referred to the money, while big change meant change in people's life and behaviour.

For this evening's meeting, I learnt the importance of a good opening and the use of "you" instead of "me". Ultimately, a speech is about your listeners - that's the "you" factor.

That's all folks. This week would be a busy and hectic one as I would need to prepare for the coming Toastmasters competition. As the saying goes "no pain, no gain".

Monday, March 22, 2010

Use of Association in Writing

Allow me to share with you on how to write using the same information but with a humorous twist.

This form of writing is writing via association - memory that does not stick is akin to Post-It pad - falling off from the surface without leaving a mark.


The Most Unforgetable Day

I wish I could forget my most unforgetable day. Afterall, I had a sloppy memory and that was what that landed me in hot soup. My head was like a Post-It pad. Things only stick and will fall off from its surface without leaving a mark.

"What are your socks?" My mother demanded as she rummaged frantically the bag of soiled clothings from the student care. I looked at her sheepishly and whimpered "I don't know..."

Of course, that was not all. As the saying goes "it never rains but pours", more unfortunate things unfolded when we reached home in the evening. My mother was fuming when she found that I had misplaced my wallet. Frankly, I had absolutely no idea where I left it - Post-It note does not leave any mark, yes? My panic quotient was beeping fast and furious as my mother's patience ran thin. The last straw was when she realised that I had spoilt my less-than-a-week old mechancial pencil by poking it at erasers. I was given the "face-the-wall" punishment - to reflect and repent - which led to this little journal.

I knew I brought this upon myself. Since there is both the non-sticky Post-It Pad and the topnotch-bonding SuperGlue in this world, I should also have both the nonchalant and serious personalities. And instead of the wall, I am seriously taking a hard look to remember where I put my things.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My boy's first accomplishment

After coaching my boy for quite some months on the essence of writing, below is the one which he has done it without my help. I would say it's a good attempt and here it is with his permission. Yes, there is definitely room for improvement but it is quite a job well done.

It was a beautiful day. The bank had just opened for business. Two robbers were lurking outside the bank. They were behaving suspiciously. As soon as the security guard had left for lunch, they entered the bank.

Once inside the bank, they took their weapons and ordered everybody to kneel down and put their heads on their head. They threatened, "Whoever moves will die!" The people in the bank were terrified. They trembled with fear. The robber who was armed with an axe, shouted at the cashier, "Hand over all your cash. If you do not do as I say, I will kill you with this axe!" The other robber who was armed with a sharp knife, stood guard over the customers.

A passer-by looked into the bank and realised that there was a robbery going on in the bank. He quickly went to the nearest telephone booth and dialled "999".

Within minutes, the police arrived at the bank. They dashed into the bank and caught the robbers red-handed. The robbers were taken by surprise. The police arrested the robbers and handcuffed them. The police brought the robbers bank to the police-station.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Essay Writing for Primary School

Things to take note in coaching essay writing (for Primary 3).

The marking criteria is split into two main categories - content and language - and for a good cause. Writing is an avenue to express and share ideas/thoughts. Hence content is important. As for language, it is a set of tools to help us convey what we want to say.

For primary school, the child is still picking up new vocabulary. So essay writing is an area where he/she can see how the new vocabulary spice up his writing. Similes, metaphors and idioms are fun way to jazz up a piece of work. This is because they conjure up vivid images of what you are writing. We also need to have connectors to help the reader understand what we are writing from one point to another.

Below is one recent example which I coach my boy to do. I have used the colour codes on the items which I highlighted to my boy to take note in essay writing. You may want to try it for size.

P/s: Though I send my boy for tuition in composition, I still prefer to teach him the finer points in writing. This is because I see better results in my boy - he enjoys the session better, laughing as we try to use the various tools in the writing - and in myself - I learn new vocabulary, simile, metaphors and idioms alongside him.

Picture Composition

It was a mundane day and Sam was doing his homework at home as usual. He was trying to keep awake in the stifling heat and decided to on the air-conditioner in the end. As he moved to close the window, he saw a suspicious, young man loitering near the public telephone booth. The untidy crook was trying to pry open the telephone using some tools.

Momentarily, Sam was rooted to the ground. He was standing as still as a statue, not knowing what to do next. A thought struck him and as quiet as the grave, he tiptoed to the living room to dial '999'. The police officer told Sam to keep a lookout for the man.

Within minutes, sirens were heard and the police had arrived. The dishevelled man panicked and took to his heels. Unfortunately, the police surrounded the area. He was handcuffed and sent to the police station. Subsequently, he was sentenced to a year in jail. As for Sam, the police commended him for his public-spiritedness and quick thinking.


My Dream House (Journal Writing)

I imagine that I am Jack in 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. Just that the magic bean will not lead me to the giant's castle but my dream house in the sky.

My dream house has a roof that is made of red, delicious apples and bright, cheerful oranges. The windows and door are made of groovy grapes and marvellous mangoes. The mere thought of it makes my mouth water. I can smell the fruity aroma wafting through the air.

When I am hungry, I can eat voraciously the glorious fruits. Peals of laughters would fill the air as I know that there will be loads of fun with my parents and brother around. We will be able to use the rainbow as slide and puffy clouds as our beds.

I know I am only building castles in the air, but maybe one day, our great scientist will make my dream come true.

P/s: You will notice that there is also a deliberate attempt to use phrases associated with "air" such as "... wafting through the air", "Peals of laughters would fill the air", and "building castles in the air".

I have also introduced the concept of alliteration here as in "groovy grapes" and "marvellous mangoes". Learn to write English like musical notes!