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The following review was written by Cynthia F. Mascone and published in Chemical Engineering Progress, p. 82, June 2002.

Technical Style

J. M. Haile, Macatea Productions, Central, SC, 208 pp., $29.95, 2001

To make the most of this book, you should read it, work through the examples, and analyze and edit your own writing using the author's advice. Detailed explana-tions of what makes good writing good and bad writing bad will help you identify what needs to be edited and why, and guide you on how to improve it. By going through the write/analyze/edit process for every report, paper, memo or other technical docu-ments you write, your writing will improve over time.

The first three chapters deal with basic principles of good writing that apply to words and phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Much of the advice you've probably heard before: choose strong verbs and precise, descriptive nouns, adjectives and adverbs; avoid multiple prepositional phrases in a row; keep structures parallel; be concise and avoid redundancies; use the active voice where possible; and create strong linkages between words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs. The author discusses these and other principles, and provides examples to illustrate good and bad writing.

The chapter on punctuation is especially good. The author does an excellent job of summarizing some key guidelines concerning the use of commas, semicolons, colons, dashes and hyphens.

A important value-added feature of this book is the set of examples at the end of each chapter. Don't skip these examples—by working through them, you'll gain a much better understanding of what the author has discussed. It would have been even more instructional, however, if he had provided revised versions of the examples.

Chapters 5 through 7 provide valuable guidance regarding equations, tables and graphics. Some of the author's points are common sense, but they are important enough to warrant discussion; equations, tables and graphics deserve as much care as text. The chapter on graphics is comprehensive in its coverage of the various types of plots and charts for presenting experimental results. A shortcoming, though, is that it does not discuss other types of figures, such as block diagrams, schematics, cutaway drawings, pie charts, bar graphs, photographs, and so on; some guidelines on when to use these other types of figures would be a good addition.

The only way for you to learn to write well is to write. This is an excellent book that can serve as your lesson plan for self-study.

Cynthia F. Mascone is the Managing Editor at Chemical Engineering Progress in New York City.

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