Hugh Gibbons' references and extra information
hunnybone for May 2013

for pharmaceutical physicians, colleagues and friends

at Work
PPhood for
PPhurther Education:







To Er is Hughman

WELL, SINCE YOU ask, the most surprising greeting was: “We expected someone much younger.”*  

Surprising, because my Pre-course Instructions for a Brighter Writer day had just used age-old principles for making plain text on page or screen reader-friendly. Such as? Even in Expert Reports prefer short paragraphs, sentences and words – familiar, if possible. Many teachers, tutors and managers overlook them.  

But, come on: can using them really suggest “someone much younger”? Mind you, for more informal settings than Instructions I’ve an armamentarium, er, bagful, of humanisers that encourage readers to waive the first of Daniel Pennac’s 10 Inalienable Rights of Readers: not to read. Examples? Ask questions. Use You. Add dashes - to energise sentences. Contractions suggest conversation. Feel the difference between It is a truth universally acknowledged and It’s a truth…  

And have And or But start some sentences: it’s how we talk. (Er, grammar fundamentalists won’t like the third, fifth, seventh etc sentences in The Bible. I say: if And is OK with God, then me too, buddy.)  

Oh, and try to grab attention in the first sentence. 

My techniques aren’t hughnique. Last year I cancelled New Scientist – a model of writing styles but with increasingly incomprehensible content. Private Eye took over. Well written; alas, dismayingly understandable. But each issue provides many examples of that Swiss Army knife of expressions: Er.* To Er is human. Speaking without hesitation, repetition or deviation or hesitation is OK for Just a Minute and TV drama. In conversation these murmers have a purpose. If you "um", and "ah" when you speak, you're helping people remember what you say. 

At Edinburgh University, Dr Martin Corley’s research suggests that these interrupt the flow of speech and force us to listen more carefully. (Yes, yes: Robert aaaaaaah Peston, er, ex-cep-ted). So including the odd Er and the like can help make an appropriate bit of writing more likeable, readable, and influential. 

My own formulary for informality also includes Um, Ahem, Mmm, Eh? Sometimes as shoutbursts: Phew! Wow! Crikey! But I draw the line at Cripes: I wouldn’t want anyone to expect Boris Johnson. Genuine words and phrases come in handy. Hold on a minute. Oh I say. Well, really! Really? Quite. Lordy! I mean (for exasperation, as with I mean, who won the war, anyway?) 

Punctuation makes its mark, too. An occasional exclamation! Or “???” And parentheses (like Frankie Howerd asides to your readers, missus). They’re also a handy home for droll explanations: Many in medical departments experience the Sunshine Theory of Management (Listen, sunshine, just *** do it). 

Er, that’s enough. 

*(Shome mishtake, shurely? Ed.)





For more information at any time, contact
The Conductor of Just1, Hugh Gibbons

Tel: 01344 451847

Write: 75 Qualitas
Roman Hill
Berks RG12 7QG
United Kingdom