Language of words

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Editing and Revising Text. By Jo Billingham.

Organizing and Participatingin Meetings. By Judith Leigh.

Publicity, Newsletters and Press Releases. By Alison Baverstock.

Punctuation. By Robert Allen.

Spelling. By Robert Allen.

Words. By John Seely.

Writing for the Internet. By Jane Dorner.

Writing Reports. By John Seely.

Oxford One Step Ahead series. pound;6.99 each.

The Pocket Guide to English Language. By John O'Connor. Cambridge University Press pound;7.95.

Never mind the PR firms that will write your brochures and press releases. Forget the IT consultants who (for a hefty cheque) will create your website. There are now lucrative companies which will standardise your grammar, correct your spelling and improve your punctuation. All of which suggests this is a timely series for both individuals and organisations feeling the need to improve their communication skills.

Self-help guides for adults, they are models of clarity and will provide genuine help to those who feel that they aren't "one step ahead" in a competitive work environment.

Inevitably, the more obviously utilitarian titles (such as those on publicity and report writing) will have the most immediate appeal.

In practice, anyone who feels they might benefit from these volumes would do well also to invest in series editor John Seely's excellent guide to improving "our capacity to cope with words" and Jo Billingham's mundanely titled but valuable Editing and Revising Text.

I also particularly like Robert Allen's two no-nonsense primers Spelling and Punctuation. They are firm ("you don't want to give a bad impression") without being pedantic and both have useful quick-reference sections.

However, it is easy to feel superior about some of the other titles.

Does anyone entrusted with organising a meeting actually need to be told they must find a suitable place to hold it? In fact, the answer is probably yes, and Judith Leigh's guide covers everything from early planning and agenda writing to minute-taking and "troubleshooting".

It will be as helpful to those running clubs and societies as to company secretaries. After all, what is obvious to one reader is not necessarily so to others and I must confess that I shall need to return to Jane Dorner's manual on net writing.

So far as my netiquette is concerned, I am obviously not one step ahead.

If you are of that generation which believes a noun phrase is a group of words rather than a single word; is unsure about newly discovered parts of speech such as modals and determiners and cannot immediately differentiate between a lexeme and a grapheme or between a phoneme and a morpheme, then John O'Connor's book will be a useful guide to the new linguistics.

A reference book rather than a course, it provides succinct definitions of grammatical terms, explains sentence structure and the use of punctuation marks and considers the varieties of "text" or "discourse". To this end, it embraces topics ranging from slang to word-formation and from dialect to imagery.

Helpfully, it bridges the variant approaches of traditional and "more recent" grammars and is explanatory rather than prescriptive. Thus I'm glad to discover I'm not alone in still labelling words such as "my", "our" and "their" as possessive adjectives rather than pronouns as modernists now decree.

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