Paul Mchenry Roberts's How To Say Nothing In 500 Words

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In How to Say Nothing in 500 Words, Paul McHenry Roberts explains how not to write.
He first shows an example of a poor writing process from a student’s point-of-view. The student makes multiple mistakes throughout. Their first mistake: “It comes to you that you do your best thinking in the morning, so you put away the typewriter and go to the movies.” Roberts continues to show the student’s procrastination, and finally, once they get down to writing, it is “ten o'clock Sunday night” before they’ve even touched the paper again. They turn it in, “moderately hopeful”, and it comes back “sporting a big “D.”” From this example, Roberts gets to the point: “Can you be expected to make a dull subject interesting? As a matter of fact, this is
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He first talks about why the essay at the beginning was so dull: “…one reason for its appalling dullness is that it never gets down to particulars.” Such abstract writing is boring to read, and gives absolutely nothing to the topic. Show what is being written, don’t just say it three different ways. However, abstract writing isn’t awful all the time: “Look at the work of any professional writer and notice how constantly he is moving from the generality, the abstract statement, to the concrete example, the facts and figures, the illustrations.” Abstract writing is necessary- but it cannot be the only thing being written. Padding is also a large problem and it’s very obvious. Why use four words when there could be forty? After all, there is often enough a word limit, and padding does the job, “if you are content with a “D” grade”. Instead of padding, look for more real content. Make a statement, and then prove it. This leads to a far more interesting paper. However, as Roberts says in his next section, “Some of the padding in freshman themes is to be blamed not on anxiety about the word minimum but on excessive timidity.” They don’t want to say what they actually mean; this is very common. Throughout history, euphemisms have been “stronger in some eras than others and in some people than others”, and are often in touchy subjects such as sex, death, or madness. These cannot be entirely avoided,…show more content…
Roberts claims “The writer builds with words, and no builder uses a raw material more slippery and elusive and treacherous.” There is no rule book. Some words are “colorful”. “They are dressy instead of plain, specific instead of general, loud instead of soft.” However, fancier does not mean better. Too many of these will make people want to die inside, or at least say, ““Good grief””. There are also “colored” words. They are “loaded with associations, good or bad.” Roberts uses the word ‘mother’ as an example. The word ‘mother’ makes people think of things like “home, safety, love, food, and various other pleasant things.” It is questionable whether it’s okay to use these often or not. Lastly, there are “colorless” words. They are ‘those of such general meaning that in a particular sentence they mean nothing.” Slang is often like this: “…applied to everything, lose their original force, and quickly die.” Using ‘etc.’ is also a bad idea; it shows that you’re out of ideas to write
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