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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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04 April 2012

Advice-points on written English #1: Clarity

One of the main points I make to Russian students of English is that it is much harder to write well than to speak fluently. English is such an international language these days that we have become tolerant of different ways of (mis-)using it—in speech. But when it comes to writing, poor English still looks decidedly деревенский.
     But there is hope. There are several basic points which non-native speakers should try to remember, and which I will be mentioning in future posts as I find relevant examples which illustrate them. Today’s concerns clarity.
     Over my muesli and yoghurt this morning, I had to read the passage below about six times before I understood what the writer was trying to say. It comes from the English-language edition of Pravda, and is part of a story about the Paraguayan economy, explaining why it depends so heavily on soya bean exports. The causes lie back in the mid-nineteenth century: (my italics)
Forced isolation was largely the reason of the successes of the industrial development of Paraguay. Cut off the world trading system controlled by the British, it was forced to support itself by manufacturing goods. Once British products entered the Paraguayan market, the need to develop their own production … ​​has disappeared. The resources were not there either. Due to the fact that the local landowners were focused on the British market and depended on the British loans, the British quickly gained a huge impact in the economy of the Latin American country.”
     The simple mistakes/inelegancies first:
     – “Largely the reason” should be “the main reason”.
     – “The reason for success” not “of success”.
     – It should be: “Cut off from the world trading system”.
     – It would have been better to have said, “support itself by manufacturing”, since the only thing you can manufacture, in this context at least, is “goods”.
     – It should have been “the need to develop local production…” since “their own” does refer to the subject of the paragraph so far, which is Paraguay, not the Paraguayan people.
     – No “has” in “the need to develop their own production disappeared.” “Has” used there makes it into the present tense.
     – No “the” before “British loans”.
     – You “make” an impact, not “gain” it. So “the British quickly made a huge impact.”
     But these are details. The main point is that the logic is so confused. Let me try to unravel it:
“Forced isolation from the world trading system compelled Paraguay to develop local industry. But when British products began to arrive in the country, the attempt was abandoned. Without natural resources, and with a landowning class which was dependent on Britain for loans and markets, Paraguay soon became just a component of the British-controlled international economy.”
     If I have got the logic right, my version is better because it is clearer (and shorter). To write English well, is to write it in a way which anyone who is vaguely literate can understand. The habit of openness and accessibility, which is not always obvious in Russian journalism, is one of the reasons why English is so widely-used around the world today.

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