Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

Communication

New Releases from McGraw-Hill

THE BEDFORD GUIDE FOR COLLEGE WRITERS. Reader/Research Manual/Handbook. Eighth Edition. X.J. Kennedy. Dorothy M. Kennedy. Marcia F, Muth. Bedford’s/St. Martin’s.

This text marks an obvious extension from the preceding selection, since the primary mode of academic communication is in the written presentation. And this, sadly, is another area in which many students lack true competency. In The Bedford Guide, the authors have created a multi-dimensional manual meant to help students clear the hurdle of composition class. In essence, this title rolls 4 texts into one: The “Writers Guide” escorts the student through each turn of the writing process; “A Writer’s Reader” is comprised of 32 carefully selected essays on topics meant to ignite deeper interest in the mind of the student. “A Writer’s Research Manual” outlines how to find sources to support argument and position papers. And “A Writer’s Handbook” serves as a nuts-and-bolts review of the basics teaching students how to avoid grammatical minefields.

Highly recommended to instructors as a primary classroom text for two reasons: 1) Its breadth and depth are hard to match; and 2) the fact that it contains 4 books in one renders it both a useful and economical alternative for the undergraduate student.

FOCUS ON WRITING. Paragraphs and Essays. Laurie G. Kirszner. Stephen R. Mandell. Bedford’s/St. Martin’s.

This manual presents, in concrete and erudite terms, a basic program on how to write well (with special attention warded to principles of grammar and revision). In essence, the essay is the culmination of the ‘writing process,’ while the sentence and paragraph are the building-blocks which propel the course of the journey. Here, Kirszner and Mandell do an impeccable job at conveying information in a simple yet layered style – their text providing students with a tangible example on how to write for the eye of the audience.

Recommended as a primary course text in all entry-level composition classes.

A SPEAKER’S GUIDEBOOK. Text and Reference. Fourth Edition. Dan O’Hair. Rob Stewart. Hannah Rubenstein. Bedford’s/St. Martin’s.

Ask just about anybody and they’ll tell you their biggest fear in life comes with being asked to speak in public. For students, this fear can be all that much more piercing (as they struggle to integrate themselves into the college experience). But…just why is public speaking such a hurdle for so many of us to clear? Basically, the anxiety grows from not wanting to look stupid in front of your peers. Accordingly, this text serves as a well-designed road-map through the process of public speaking – the authors expertly showing students the basics on how to prepare effective speeches while mitigating the panic-impulse that’s ignited by having to address a crowd. Well-ordered and clearly written, with a finger-tab reference format that offers the reader immediate access to primary chapters.

In sum, this is the best resource for the undergraduate speech class we’ve seen; it should be considered a frontline resource for instructors in the field.

BETTER WRITING. Mary T. Carbone. Thomson/South-Western.

This new text by Mary Carbone should be required reading in all English Composition courses at the college level. Yes, it is simply that well-thought-out and purposeful – a true vital resource for the freshman struggling over how to construct a college paper.

In today’s academia, the ability to write a compact declarative sentence (let alone a passionate argumentative essay) is sorely lacking. It seems as if students are reaching college without any mastery over the English language at all. In turn, this is posing huge problems with regard to their ability to learn (and with the instructor’s ability to teach).

Accordingly, Better Writing attempts to address these problems in a manner conducive to the student’s individual level of competency; Carbone writes in the preface:

“Before students can learn to write well, they need to learn to write correctly, and learning to write correctly – and effectively – can be made easy.”

Quite a bold statement, yes, but the author makes good on it.

Instead of covering the same old tired ground in the same old tired way, Carbone instead sets out a simple Five-Step Method that builds the perfect road map for the student to follow; this method includes:

  1. The Sentence. To begin, the student is taught the components and techniques of sentence structure;
  2. Grammar. Fundamental rules of grammar are taught so that the student is allowed to avoid common problems; in turn, confidence is developed;
  3. Punctuation. The student is taught how and why to punctuate sentences through repeat exercises;
  4. Spelling. Students are presented with easy-to-remember clues to help develop basic spelling skills;
  5. Style. Once a grasp of the fundamentals is achieved, the student is taught to think about how they are writing by carefully considering the words being used.

By taking the novice student through these step-by-step instructions, Carbone is teaching the idea that before one can write well they must first understand what their goal is: to convey thought and information in the clearest and most powerful manner possible.

And before anyone can do this, they must see what they need to say and then apply the rules of language to the art/practice of writing. Simply, many things must coalesce and come together in the mind of the writer before words are able to stain blank paper with true and deep meaning.

Unfortunately, these are often times intimidating concepts for a young college student to grasp. However, Carbone does a beautiful job here in showing instructors how to teach students not to be scared off by having to write a paper. As Better Writing demonstrates, confidence is directly related to a complete and fundamental understanding of the basic principles of composition.

But again, how do you reach the plateau? In five easy steps. In five easy steps.

As previously noted, this text is recommended to all entry-level English comp classes as a classroom text. Further should be considered at the high-school level in any course dedicated to college preparatory” content.

by John Aiello

REPORTING FOR THE MEDIA. Eighth Edition. Fred Fedler. John R. Bender. Lucinda Davenport. Michael W. Drager. Oxford University Press.

Real investigative reporting is a dicey business guaranteed to win few friends while unleashing hordes of enemies. Yet, for those who care to persist, this text (now in its eighth edition), provides the journalism student with the nuts and bolts of the trade while presenting interesting perspective on many ethical questions.

As to the nuts and bolts, the authors provide the student with the tools they will need to avoid the pitfalls of bad writing (such as misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, personification of inanimate objects or abstractions and the distinction between “who” and “whom”).

However, of more practical importance are the “Knows” at the end of each chapter. This segment of the text consists of a separate mini-lesson by a “writing coach” (one of which is Joe Hight, Managing Editor of The Oklahoman). For instance, Editor Hight’s “knows” for police and court reporters include valuable insight on purposeful reporting:

“Victims should be approached, but allowed to say no. If the answer is no, the reporter should leave a card or number so victims can call back later. Oftentimes, the best stories come this way . . Little things count. Call victims back to verify facts and quotes. Return photos. . .Don’t throw ‘allegedly,’ ‘suspect’ and other words such as this into your stories like you would throw mashed potatoes at a food fight.”

(Pages 417-418)

The authors also provide in depth checklists for record sources, probably the most valuable tool for any reporter (other than the ability to ask questions). For instance, city and county sources of records can include purchase orders to determine what products or services were obtained from what vendors and at what prices; bids and bid specifications which identify which contractors are being used for government-related services (and at what prices); inspection reports; and campaign contributions statements. For example, the California Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest form is required to be filed by many public employees. This is an invaluable source of information for journalists which identifies both the assets and income of many public officials further identifying potential or actual conflicts of interest.

In their chapter on Communications Law, the authors do an excellent job of identifying the risks associated with news gathering, such as the threat of libel suits (in addition to citing the major defenses to libel including the Fair Report Privilege and the Fair Comment Doctrine and identifying the 12 steps for avoiding libel suits).

However, news gathering is risky work, and a dedicated reporter will often have to but heads with politicians, judges, and major corporations who use their power as a mechanism to cover up malfeasance. As an example, the authors point to the Food Lion case — Food Lion Inc. v. Capital Cities/ABC, 194 F.3d 505 4th Cir. 1999 — which illustrates both the dangers and benefits of aggressive reporting:

“Reporters have defended the use of hidden microphones and cameras as the best and, occasionally the only way to get some stories. Nevertheless, the practice is distasteful to many readers and viewers. A federal jury in North Carolina gave tangible expression to that disgust when it awarded the Food Lion supermarket chain more than $5.5 million in damages against ABC News. The network had broadcast a ‘PrimeTime Live’ report on how Food Lion handled meat and other products it sold. Two producers for the show falsified job applications and references to obtain jobs in Food Lion stores in North and South Carolina. While working at Food Lion, they wore hidden microphones and cameras, recording such things as washing spoiled hams in bleach and using barbecue sauce to disguise rancid meat. Although the supermarket chain disputed many of ABC’s charges, the truthfulness of the story was not at issue in the trial. The jury considered only the news gathering practices ABC and its producers had used and concluded they had committed fraud, breach of duty of loyalty, trespass and unfair competition. A federal appeals court, saying Food Lion had failed to prove fraud on ABC’s part, reduced the damage award to $2.”

(Page 575)

It is interesting for the reader to note the Court’s comment that Food Lion had acknowledged in its opening brief that it did not bring a defamation action against ABC because such an action would have required proof that ABC had acted with actual malice. See: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80 (1964). Instead, the Court pointed out that what Food Lion had really sought to do was to recover defamation damages for non-reputational tort claims (thus avoiding having to satisfy the stricter First Amendment standards of a defamation claim, in effect doing an “end-run” around the gates of the First Amendment).

In addition,one of the amicus briefs in the Food Lion casenoted thisstatement by Dr. Samuel Johnson — somethingall students of journalism are destined toone day learn): “The power of government is to silence.”

by Frank Aiello

THE BUSINESS WRITER’S HANDBOOK. 8th Edition. Gerald J. Alred. Charles T. Brusaw. Walter E. Oliu. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

For a time, I taught elements of college-level composition in a writing lab. In addition, I would sometimes lecture to Business English and English 1A courses on the importance of learning how to write a standard business letter. Simply, it is imperative that students know how to author competent business correspondence if they are to enjoy any success in life. As most educators will agree, the inability of students to communicate effectively is one of the greatest problems facing today’s society – for without crisp communication skills, you are on a fast-track to nowhere. In this text, the authors have formulated an impressive manual on business writing designed for the undergraduate student. Basically, Business Writer’s contains pertinent direction on how to prepare common business correspondence and business-related documents. Topics of coverage include grammar and word usage; understanding style in presentation; how to document sources; how to compose proper sentences; and how to integrate research into the written document. In addition, Alred and co-authors speak to many different kinds of writing that the professional is called on to complete, including formal reports, business correspondence and cover letters. One of the most vital areas covered includes a sparkling chapter on resumes, which is an area that many students stumble over.

Noted for its organization and clear presentation, Business Writer’s Handbook would serve as the perfect student-companion in Business English or Office Administration courses. In addition, instructors teaching foundational courses in composition meant to ready students for English 1A should strongly consider adopting this handbook, as it presents relevant information related to basic composition.

by John Aiello

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS. Fifth Edition. Sarah Trenholm. Arthur Jensen. Oxford University Press.

For the most part, human beings exist in a mindless state. And if we adopt the authors’ definition, in such a state the individual is unaware — and wholly uncritical.

Interpersonal Communications is a text meant to teach college students how to communicate with society in a clear and unshackled manner free of social contrivances or preconceptions; Trenholm and Jensen write:

“The first step in reducing mindlessness, then, is to become aware of the extent to which perceptions and behaviors are socially determined. Most people fail to realize that their perceptions and behaviors are largely socially constructed. The social rules that we follow as a matter of course seldom have the “feel” of rules. We believe that our behavior is freely chosen rather than socially controlled.”

(Page 168)

As both politicians and cinematographers know, perception is everything. And in the chapter Perception Goes to the Movies: How Cinematographers Influence what We See, the authors illuminate us as follows:

“The ‘big screen’ is only a two-dimensional rectangle, with a dominant horizontal shape. Every scene in the film has to be conveyed within this frame. To create the appearance of depth or extreme heights, a feeling of suspense, or emotional arousal, directors and cinematographers must know quite a lot about the perceptual processes of the audience . . . To create a sense of dominance or power, important elements may be emphasized by placing them in the top third of the screen. Sometimes this is done subtly by focusing the camera clearly on a character in the center third, leaving another character slightly out of focus. The result is a ‘reminder’ of who is really in control … The opposite effect can be achieved by placing characters in the lower portion of the frame. Characters placed this way look especially vulnerable or helpless, and even more so if the rest of the screen is empty or stark in contrast to the lonely figure at the bottom of the screen.”

(Pages 150-151)

These ‘tricks of the trade’ serve to remind the student how we come to be trained by social patterns and structures, in turn learning to react to the world around us. Accordingly, Trenholm’s and Jensen’s text provides excellent insight into the forces that drive our interactions (with the goal being to end up more accomplished communicators).

Each of these texts is recommended in their respective disciplines for their clarity of focus and readability, imparting information to the student-reader in sharp and concrete terms. Accordingly, they should be on instructors’ ‘short-lists’ as either primary or secondary course manuals.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

RULES OF THUMB. A Guide For Writers. Jay Silverman. Elaine Hughes. Diana Roberts Wienbroer. McGraw Hill.

For decades, college-level English instructors have required their students to buy a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and use it in the daily course of their college life. In its time, Strunk and White was the benchmark, but changing times and changing course-work has rendered it somewhat stifling.

Accordingly, this McGraw-Hill guide is a refreshing and up-to-date alternative to such traditional manuals. Readers will note that there are many fine attributes to this book: the relatively inexpensive price; the information on how to grow in to an effective writer (by keeping a journal and avoiding excess use of words); the refresher course on syntax and grammar.

But as a former college-level instructor in a writing lab, the most impressive thing to me about Rules Of Thumb was its coverage of the research paper. It has been my experience that many entry-level college students are simply lost when asked to put a term paper together, constantly needing their hands held as they wind their way through the process.

However, Silverman and his co-writers do a nice job in putting together a step-by-step overview of the research paper, including an effective analysis of how and why to document sources (with APA, MLA, and Chicago Style discussed). It was the authors’ coverage on source documentation which sold me on this title — too many students today are plagiarizing out of ignorance, as they simply don’t understand that they have to document source-material. But Rules brings sound and easy-to-understand advice on this subject (and many others), offering students a “pocket” guide/primer course to the principles of college-level writing.

Recommended to all college-level students and advanced high school students as a valuable guide to assist in effectively completing their writing assignments.

A RHETORIC OF ARGUMENT. Jeanne Fahnestock. Marie Secor. McGraw-Hill.

Major text focused on the elements of how to construct an effective argument. Now in its third edition, Rhetoric teaches this difficult skill to the student in an effective and logical manner. The ability to construct a proper argumentative paper is probably the most misunderstood of all English 1A assignments, with young writers unsure of how to frame their presentation for impact and efficiency. Here, Fahnestock and Secor provide direction on technique and organization, outlining the theory of argument and then guiding the student through its myriad landscapes. Over 60 new readings on the subject are included as a means of presenting first-class examples on how to effectively write in order to alter your audience’s perception of an issue or subject.

Appropriate for English Composition courses as a supportive text. Further recommended as course text in specialized Philosophy courses which offer in depth study of logical argument.

ENTREVISTAS. An Introduction to Language and Culture. Robert L. Davis. H. Jay Siskin. Alica Ramos. Second Edition. McGraw-Hill.

This inventive first-year Spanish text book, Entrevistas (“Interviews”) embarks on some new territory by way of its theme and construction.

Foreign languages are intimidating and difficult to learn — with students suddenly thrust into an alien environment that they can’t quite grasp in practical terms. Accordingly, this text implements a unique idea: it uses video clips of interviews with native Spanish speakers in conjunction with the course book to help students hear and see how the whole process is supposed to work.

This approach (like the way that cassette tapes were used in the 1980s classroom) is meant to teach diction and pace in a meaningful and useful way — in a way that a freshman college student can readily identify with.

The goal here is not to just memorize some Spanish vocabulary words in order to pass an exam and wade through a prerequisite (like so many of us did), but instead, to be able to communicate in multiple tongues.

Recommended to all college-level libraries as a general reference text. Also a good choice as a beginning Spanish teaching text.

GREGG SHORTHAND. Basic Principles. Centennial Edition. Charles E. Zoubek. McGraw-Hill. This book is responsible for training more secretaries and office managers than instructors can count. Gregg teaches the fundamental practices of shorthand note-taking, and it is regarded throughout the academic world as the leader in its field. Readers will be struck by the logical format and the easy to follow delineation, as Zoubek escorts his audience through the basics of this lost art. What’s best about this text is that it’s easily accessible to the student who has never practiced the skill before, introducing the novice to the material slowly so as to not lose them in a whirl-wind of strange nuance. Beginning with the concept of You Write What You HearZoubek stresses that the whole practice of competently being able to perform shorthand is tied to applying symbols to sound, and this text expertly shows the young reader how to do this. Finally, Gregg leaves the student with an understanding that this skill is not only about classroom proficiency and passing tests, but instead, it extends to the professional world of business: if a student can master these principles, they will have made themselves permanently employable.

Recommended to libraries in both the public and college sector as a general reference text.

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This entry was posted on June 30, 2013 by in Reference and tagged .
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