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Effective Writing: Plain English at Work

Effective writing; plain English at work 2nd edition

2nd edition 

by Elizabeth Manning Murphy, with Hilary Cadman

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Published June 2014
• ISBN 9781922198143 • 200 pages • RRP $38.50
Ebook • ISBN 9781922198150 • RRP $14.99
Ebook available from all major ebook retailers.

Reviews: "Packed with useful insights"  Isabelle Delvare, PEGboard • "it’s proven a handy reference for the professional" – Dallas Stow, The Canberra Editor  "contains vast amounts of useful information, beautifully presented" – Caroline Petherick, Editing Matters "a thoroughly useful guide to a range of readers"  John Linnegar • "The book is friendly and accessible, making it easy to understand and follow and a valuable supplement to other writing stalwarts, such as the Style Manual"  Tina Mattei, Editors Vic
Read the full reviews below

Effective writing: plain English at work, second edition, is about writing that works: it is based on sound English grammar and plain English style. If you want to write in a way that is clear and meaningful, to avoid writing gobbledegook, and to be able to explain effective writing to others, this book is for you.

Through this book you will gain the skills needed to write cohesive paragraphs and to consider your target audience. This updated edition also considers writing emails, material for websites, and other workplace writing that wasn’t covered in the first edition.

  • How do you explain to a colleague why their writing doesn’t make sense?
  • Why does choice of font matter in a document?
  • What is appropriate use of social media in the workplace?
  • Why is white space important in an email and in a printed report?

Many such questions are answered here. You can practise writing and check your progress by doing the activities after every topic. Use this book as a self-tutor or as a class textbook.


1. Introduction
Part A - The basics
2. Grammar self-assessment
3. Spelling
4. Parts of speech
5. Groups: sentences, words, phrases, clauses
6. Paragraphs
7. Punctuation
8. Clear writing
9. Grammar re-assessment
Part B - Writing effectively
10. Plain English expression and style
11. Choosing your words
12. Grammar and plain English revision
Part C - Creating effective documents
13. Principles of effective writing and document design
14. Writing documents
15. Report writing
16. Writing plans


"The publication has been updated to reflect the current times, with sage advice on composing emails and writing for websites. Even text messaging is mentioned (although this cynical editor doubts the best advice will be applied in the real world). The book is friendly and accessible, making it easy to understand and follow and a valuable supplement to other writing stalwarts, such as the Style Manual (which is not nearly as accessible). Each section contains exercises for the reader to complete, with sneaky answers included.
    The book is aimed primarily at the workplace and covers a number of areas overlooked by many similar publications. It is pleasing to see references to writing minutes, about which there is very little good published guidance. There are also sections on writing formal letters, composing presentations, drafting job applications and writing reports. While the book is aimed at the work environment, it has application for all writers, both official and recreational, and would be particularly useful for students, as well as editors wishing to practise for the IPEd accreditation exam.
    Elizabeth Murphy and Hilary Cadman alternate between providing sound grammatical advice and explaining the elements of good writing. There are sections on the absolute basics – such as the nuts and bolts of nouns, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, adjectives and punctuation – as well as points that even seasoned writers and editors sometimes struggle with, such as modifiers, pompous words, redundancy and fillers. Then there are more theoretical sections about the enduring importance of clear writing and understanding a document's purpose and audience.
    At the heart of the advice are the merits of plain English, which is almost always welcome."
— Tina Mattei, Editors Vic Newsletter November 2014

"It’s a plain-language, no-nonsense guide to written communication for a number of audiences: those for whom English is a second language, a student wanting to overcome the current shortfalls of English language education in schools in Australia, and for those learning the craft of office communication—particularly in the public service.
     Well set out and easy to navigate around, it provides the right balance between being an easy DIY guide to good written communication and an explanation of the intricacies of English grammar should you wish to delve a bit deeper.
     It has a nice introduction that does not pontificate but succinctly introduces the essential elements of effective writing. The short self-assessment after the introduction is a great idea, sowing the seeds of self-doubt in the reader and enticing them to actually read the sections where those doubts lie. Although the book continues with activities to challenge the reader, the tone is pleasantly professional and not ‘schoolmarmish’. …
    Finally, I wouldn’t wonder that it’s proven a handy reference for the professional. I’ll bet there have been, and will be, many occasions where a professional editor will say to himself or herself, ‘Hmmmm … I wonder what Elizabeth and Hilary say about that?’, and reach out for their copy."
— Dallas Stow, The Canberra Editor (newsletter of the Canberra Society of Editors ) 23.5 (2014): 11

"The whole book is written in the author’s hallmark style [: thoroughly and with the minimum of fuss]. As in the case of her earlier Working words, this means that the approach and the tone are engaging, immediate and practical. Characterised by pithy descriptions and definitions, the text wastes not one second on useless words. …
    The entire book is based on the premise that writers – within a broad variety of professional and other contexts – have to communicate successfully with their readers. Packed with useful insights, it ambitiously sets out to describe the many techniques that are readily available to authors to get the job done properly. It is thus broad in scope, and generous in the amount of material it covers.
    The potential readership of Effective writing: plain English at work is broad too. Although the book was intended first and foremost to help authors and teachers of writing technique, its approach means that it is of great help to editors also. In fact, it provides editors with practically all the language tools they need to be able to make correct language decisions and ensure that their authors communicate effectively with their readers. …
    Part A is more than a little useful. How often have many of us not wished that we could find a book that would enable us to revise the grammar and spelling principles we learnt so many years ago at school, in a way that makes sense to us? Dipping into various texts to find answers to our questions, we may previously have been put off either by their superficial coverage of topics; or by what felt like alien approaches and/or terminology. And what about the many younger editors among us who received only the barest of introductions to grammar at school and who hanker for a rigorous yet accessible introduction to the topic, one with plenty of examples?
    The author of Effective writing: plain English at work excels at meeting the needs of both these groups of editors. Her sharp grasp of what needs to be covered in the book has clearly been inspired by her work of many years as a mentor and trainer in effective writing; and by her extensive work in editing non-native speakers of English in Australia (a country with authors from a huge variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds). …
    As important as ‘the basics’ may be in serving the needs of both authors and their intended readers, however, a great deal more is required of editors in ensuring effective communication. These crucial additional aspects are covered in parts B and C …
   Topic discussion in sections A to C is extended through numerous well-chosen examples and via the examination of common pitfalls and useful remedies in language use. Moreover, the author has provided a veritable treasure trove of exercises (with their answers) throughout the three sections – so much so that even language teachers will find a great deal of support there. Dipping into many of the exercises in the course of preparing this review, I found them to be generally useful in helping to establish the many aspects of language use and terminology they cover.
    Effective writing: plain English at work features a detailed index, one in which the numbered entries refer to the relevant chapters, sections and activities. This well-designed index represents just one more way in which the author has made sure that we, her readers, are able to extract maximum value from her hard work and rich experience."
— Isabelle Delvare, PEGboard 21.2 (August 2014) 20 (Newsletter of the Professional Editors' Group, South Africa)

"This text has been written by a hugely knowledgeable and experienced author keen to disseminate her expertise. The book contains vast amounts of useful information, beautifully presented. More than half of it is dedicated to points of grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure. That is then followed by a section on writing style (ie what we editors know as the author’s voice, so this part is particularly valuable to us). The final section covers elements of design for different types of document – nothing technical, but good common sense, showing how clarity of thought can lead to clarity of layout and hence enhanced understanding by the reader. It’s clear that the entire book has been constructed following its own simple design guidelines, an excellent self-advertisement. In this second edition, an index has been added, a vital feature in a book of this type."
— Caroline Petherick, Editing Matters (Sep/Oct 2014) 12 (magazine for the Society of Editors and Proofreaders, UK)

"As a trainer of editors and a teacher of writers who is often asked to refer students to helpful self-study texts, I believe Effective writing to be a thoroughly useful guide to a range of readers, from those relatively new to English grammar and usage to writers and others needing to ‘brush up’. This is made possible by the authors’ modern, accessible style of writing and presenting information – a far cry from the ponderous prescriptive grammars of yore. Plus it includes a dimension of effective communication that most texts of this kind neglect: document design. This topic occupies part C of the book, ‘Creating effective documents’, an aspect that wily business communicators nowadays set great store by.
   Right from the outset, Mesdames Murphy and Cadman nail their colours to the mast: ‘This book is about plain English – it is about writing working documents effectively’ in any office environment, whatever form that may take. And throughout the book they practise what they preach: the content is clearly explained and set out, there are ample examples to reinforce the theory and, in addition, there are a number of activities for the reader to test their knowledge with, accompanied by solutions. …
   My sense is that Effective writing
will serve – in the gentlest of ways – to elevate purposeful readers from ‘intuitive’ to ‘informed’ writers in English. At the same time, it will imbue them with a confidence born of making the really useful current wisdom in this book their own." 
— John Linnegar, author, text editor and proofreader, and immediate past chairman of the Professional Editors’ Group in South Africa, July 2014

"The second edition is a welcome addition to adjusting our English skills to accommodate the ever-changing technology. … This book would suit a range of people – from the English language learner who needs to improve his/her language skills, especially the writing skills, to the journalist/creative writing student, whose target audience is the wider public.  It is also useful for teachers, trainers or business people who might want to check or reinforce their knowledge of grammar and writing in general and to make sure that they are using the right language to get their message across in order to get an accurate response.   It is designed to be used as a self-study book or as a classroom text or as an addition to the set text.   As a self-study book it is extremely user-friendly.   The pages are set out with explanations, examples and practice exercises. I can recommend this book to anyone who wants to communicate effectively "
Kathleen McKenzie, President Commercial Education Society of Australia (CESA), CESA Members' Newsletter 2015

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