Dreyer’s English: A delightful batch of tips to help you write better

Have you read Dreyer’s English yet? What is it about, is it any good? Here are things that I thought it was great for.

I wonder how often it is that a book about English writing hits the top charts in book sales. Well, Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House, has achieved that with his book, Dreyer’s English.

For a copyeditor, it’s a delightful and entirely satisfying conversational account of why we shouldn’t use ‘really’ ‘very’, how to use commas and semicolons, when to hyphenate, and all those little things that we are on the lookout for.

No jargon! No highly technical words that only grammarians would know!

And it’s chock-filled with good advice to writers in general (with a particular leaning towards fiction writers) on—as is on the title page—’clarity and style’.

But can academic writers make use of this book?

How does Dreyer’s relate to academic writing?

Academic writing, especially journal submissions, have to follow stringent style requirements. There are going to be points on which those style guidelines will not agree with Dreyer’s English.

But in so far as you as the writer aim to make your writing clear and to effectively convey your message (and copyeditors aim to help you achieve this goal), Dreyer’s English gives some practical instructions on how to choose words and use punctuation to make it clear to the reader what you want to say.

How to make use of Dreyer’s

Dreyer’s English is not a traditional reference book in the sense that you wouldn’t look specific sentence parts (e.g., ‘semicolon’ or ‘adjective, hyphenated’) up in the table of contents or index and find the definition and proper/improper uses. The author shares his wisdom and pet peeves in somewhat arbitrary clusters.

Take notes! Image via Pixabay.

To best ‘learn’ from the book, my suggestion is to take notes on the key points. Especially if you’re anything like me: I can usually remember that I thought “Oh I need to remember this”, but can’t recall the actual guidance.

Highlight the bits that make you go “Ah! I do that wrong all the time” or “Oh this kind of thing confuses me every time.” Those are the ones that you’ll most likely have a practical use for.

Then you can refer to those notes whenever you get those “Oh wait, I remember reading something about this in Dreyer’s…” moments.

Yes, it’s completely old-fashioned and nothing revolutionary, but it’s simple. Notes can be digital or analog, whatever works for you.

The best bits

For what it’s worth, here are my two favorite bits in Dreyer’s. Hopefully they will pique your interest in the book.

Avoid using: very, rather, really, quiet, in fact, just, so, of course, surely, that said, actually.

They’re not necessary. Period.

Radical? Perhaps, but worth giving it a shot.

Of course, as Mr. Dreyer himself says, you can go back and delete those after you’ve finished writing; otherwise, you might suddenly find yourself unable to write a word 🙂

Get rid of redundant words

This was, I admit, an eye-opener. One gets into the habit of using phrases like ‘general consensus’, ‘plan ahead‘ and ‘depreciated in value‘ (italics=redundant word) after reading them everywhere, but that’s no reason to perpetuate the error.

Mr. Dreyer has shared these online (‘Close’ Proximity, ‘End’ Result, and More Redundant Words to Delete From Your Writing), so I highly recommend you look at them, whether or not you choose to read the rest of the book.

If you would like help in putting these tips to work for a clearer piece of writing, get in touch via the contact form or email info@theclarityeditor.com.

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