There are two things that distinguish us from the animal kingdom. One is our ability to express our ideas the way no other animal can, and second is our ability to create the necessary tools that help us to do our job. These two traits define the core of human brainpower – these are our power. We use these two traits to measure, differentiate and create hierarchy; not only between us and other animals but also amongst ourselves. In other words, those at the bottom of the hierarchy have a lesser ability to express their ideas and to work complicated tools. The rules are pretty simple, either you have the brainpower and clout to express yourself and your ideas, or you do not.
I would imagine that we can sum-up the very notion of “human being” by these two traits. Our essence and our well-being are embedded in these two traits. What I mean by our essence and our well-being is that our health, wealth, power, status, rise and fall are all intrinsically related to these two traits. We find ourselves in peril when there is a deficiency of these two traits. For example, occasionally we will encounter a new insight, a new and brilliant idea – but we struggle to express the idea. We frustrate ourselves in our attempt to bring the idea out in a lucid and compelling form. It is not always easy to do so, that is to express the ideas in a powerful way. Unless we are geniuses, we experience difficulty and pain when creating ideas as well as when expressing ideas.
Naively, and with great fervour, we sometimes imagine that expressing ideas is an easy task. That is when we quickly grab a pen and paper, and sit down to write a letter, and soon find ourselves staring at a blank sheet. I think you got the gist of what I am trying to say here. We search for help or some previously written samples – we look for tools. We need tools to help us do our job proficiently. This is the beauty of the human brain – our ability to create the necessary tools – powerful tools to help us with style, eloquence and clout in our writing.
Like with any tools, it takes time, patience, and lots of practice to become a skilled user of writing tools. I am not a veteran user of these tools. I only recently started to use these tools rigorously, and I am scared to admit that these tools are difficult to use. William Strunk and E. B. White’s book The Elements of Style Fourth Edition (LONGMAN, 2000, London) is a small book, only 105 pages. The way it’s structured and written, brief but to the point, does make it, in the view of many, the most important and most powerful book on English grammar rules. They teach (in fact tell the reader) not to use any extra or superfluous words in sentences and to keep the sentences as precise and as short as possible. It is one of the best grammar tools for writers whether they are novices or experts in the field. I publish below a few paragraphs from The Elements of Style.
Tools such as the Strunk and White book, The Elements of Style, and the Oxford English Reference Dictionary Revised Second Edition (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2003) are in a class of their own. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary is a comprehensive and indeed an indispensable reference tool and boasts a massive 250,000 words, phrases and definitions. It covers scientific, technical, and other specialist subjects; including “the animal and plant kingdoms, astronomy, chemical elements, and the human body; the solar system; the arts, architecture, and music; and sports and games, plus 16 pages of world maps in full colour”. There is no doubt that when writing either articles or books in English, achieving an impressive command of the English language is of utmost importance. And your tools have to be the best tools available in the market.
Writing is about communicating, and conveying ideas to the reader in a comprehensible, well structured and lucid form. Shirley Taylor’s book Model Business Letters, E-Mails and Other Business Documents (FT/ PRENTICE HALL; sixth edition, 2004, London) is written as a practical and comprehensive guide to writing business emails and letters. Shirley has packed the book with many sample letters and emails to help the reader understand how to write professional letters using modern spoken language. The easy to understand email and letter layouts, as well as the checklists at the end of some chapters, are very useful and valuable. The reference books are extremely important for the reasons I have stated in this article. However, reference books and their importance are perhaps underestimated by many. We should in fact make these kinds of reference books our constant companions. The rewards are huge if we do this and our brainpower will respond. The two core human traits will of course respond as well. I found Shirley’s book quite pragmatic and it is an essential tool for learning effective business communication.
What is brainpower? Brainpower is about ideas and the expression of ideas. As I have argued before in RTM, there is a strong correlation between creativity and brainpower. Effective writing skills and tools help us in expressing our brainpower and doing this with eloquence, style and power.