Book Review: Writing Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff

Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean

Cover shot Writing Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff

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What is the book about?

Are you wondering how Josh Bernoff feel about modern business writing? The title of his book says it all—front-loading at its best!

If you’ve had enough of verbal ducking and weaving in business writing, this book is for you. No more hiding behind jargon, weasel words and cowardly passives. Instead boldly say what you want to say. As Bernoff explains, clear writing that expresses a clear stance has become so rare that it will help you stand out and gain recognition.

Bernoff puts his own ideas to work in the book, offering offers succinct advice in four parts. Just look at his table of contents:



Table of contents of Writing Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff

Any questions?

Why this book is worth your time

How do you define wordy, long-winded writing? Bernoff has devised the meaning ratio as a (somewhat idiosyncratic) way of measuring meaning:

meaning ratio = meaningful words ÷ total words

The meaning ratio is a way of quantifying bullshit by expressing how many meaningful words a piece of writing contains. To quote Bernoff: “Bullshit is communication that wastes the reader’s time by failing to communicate clearly and accurately … The biggest problem is a lack of clarity. Jargon, overuse of qualifying words like ‘very’ and ‘deeply,’ confusing sentences, poorly organized thinking and just general rambling: that’s bullshit” (p. 7) Using this definition, Bernoff can count the bullshit words in a passage and calculate its meaning ratio. Perfect writing would have a ratio of 100%, while a ratio of 80% would still be readable. Anything below 70% is unreadable.

The Iron Imperative: Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own

Obeying Bernoff’s Iron Imperative means saying what you mean without any fluff. Bernoff not only clearly explains every piece of advice, he dramatically improves examples of existing writing by applying his principles. You don’t have to take his word for it—he knows how to prove what he says and does so over and over again.

Even better, in Part Three of his book he provides step-by-step explanations of how to improve how you write.  Just knowing that you should strive for a higher meaning ratio will not magically fix your writing problems. Good writing begins with how you prepare. As a better writer, you write strategically, keeping your readers in mind at all times. Before you even sit down to write your first draft, you will have your audience, your structure and your facts clear. Of course, you’ll still need to edit, but it will be editing with a purpose. Being clear about what you want to say will help you be clear about how to get there. It will be more work than just letting your thoughts flow freely onto the paper but it will help you get heard!

Want to know more?

Josh Bernoff  writes a blog that is full of smart observations and practical advice for writers. Try this article about New Year’s resolutions for writers. If you want to get a taste of his book, you can read a sample chapter for free on his website.

What do you think? Have you read the book yet?

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Else Gellinek is a German-American, bilingual linguist and translator specializing in PR, marketing and corporate communications as well as non-native editing. She blogs about the translation industry, freelancing, language and anything else that might tickle her fancy.

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