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Chapter V. Connection, The Soul Of Good Writing

§ 21. "Connection," said Jowett of Oxford, "is the soul of good writing." If so, a good many pieces of English are lacking in point of soul. This is true even in the case of certain famous and valuable authors. Emerson is an example. Matthew-Arnold said of Emerson's prose that it was not great prose, because it lacked a certain wholeness of tissue.

Wholeness of tissue is a hard thing to get. Emerson hasn't it, because his sentences are epigrams. Each, to be sure, is fine in itself. It is easy to pick out Emersonian sayings to serve as mottoes. He reminds you of the Book of Proverbs. But in any of his essays you miss the principle of progress. You feel that it fails to unfold, paragraph by paragraph, from the chosen subject to a final conclusion about that subject.

May not the same thing be said about a good deal of our modern business English? There lies before me a stimulating little book of a hundred short chapters. The first dozen topics are as follows: "The young man with nothing but brains; advertise yourself, not the other man; 'are you there?'; how old are you; say 'I can'; give every employe a chance; 'money' is seeking 'brains'; can your manager be seen?; big profits; learn all you can; to fail once, is it to fail always!; the commercial death-chart." These are all interesting topics. They attract attention. But is there any progress in them? Is there any principle of connection, except that they all concern business?

The order of topics is never unimportant. It is more important in some kinds of writing than in others, but there is always a best way of arrangement. And that way is best which leads the reader onward with the least effort on his part. The least thing which checks progress is irritating. When a mere man gets a four-page letter from a woman, he reads the first page first, and then he has to hunt for the second, for that second page may be the third, the fourth, or the second. If the second actually happens to be the second, he heaves a sigh of relief. When yon read an advertisement, yon are irritated if the text is divided by pictures, or written in two columns, between each two opposite lines of which you have to make a jump.

We like to get on. We like to move easily from sentence to sentence, from paragraph to paragraph, and come to a logical and satisfying close. If we like to do this, how shall we help others to find the same smooth effect in our own writing?

Our task begins, as we have already seen, in the outline. Connected thinking makes a connected outline. A logical progression of topics makes a logical composition. Each sentence of the preliminary scheme should spring naturally from the preceding. There ought to be a difference - a difference for the worse - if, when the skeleton is once put together, anybody tries to take out a thigh-bone and make it fit into a shoulder blade.

§ 22. If this skeleton-building has been rightly done, then only minor matters of connection remain to be considered. Not to crack the wind of the poor figure, all we then have to do is to fasten the bones together with their proper ligaments before we fill in the flesh and blood and give it the breath of our own life. In plain English, we have to connect paragraph with paragraph and sentence with sentence. They are already laid in position. The order of them is right. Now come the ligaments.

The ligament between paragraphs is often some word of the preceding paragraph. Take the one now being written. It begins with ligament, because that directly echoes the closing sentence of the preceding. Note the echo-words in the following; they are in italics:

1. In a previous chapter I (Definition Of Business English) suggested that you push business - with brains. Now the type of mind to cultivate for such work is well set forth in Major-General Baden-Powell's "Aids to Scouting." Please do not doubt my seriousness. This little book is one of the best trainers of the inductive faculty you can possibly have. The soldier teaches you how to scout for the enemy, the signs of his presence, the probability as to where you will find him, and what to do when you see him. The business man uses exactly the same faculties - only he is scouting for Orders.

It is one thing to know an order when you see it before your face; it is quite another to see one where there is only a pin-point evidence of its undoubted existence. Baden-Powell when in Cashmir had a match with a Shikari as to which could see farther than the other. The Shikari pointed to a hillside and asked how many cattle were grazing on it. "B.P." could hardly see any cattle at all, but he startled the native by asking him if he could see the man in charge of the cattle. Now the Mafeking hero could not see the man himself, but he knew there would be one somewhere; and as it was hot he concluded the man would be sitting tinder the one solitary tree just above the cattle. A look through the glasses proved the surmise to be correct - Knowlson: Business!

2. Of the many causes to which failure in business is ascribed, want of Method is the last thing that would be admitted, though more often than not the real reason of ill-success. We hear frequently of such explanations from bankrupts themselves as "want of money," "want of opportunity," "bad luck," "bad debts," etc.; but if the Official Receiver could be induced to state the causes of the majority of failures which come under his notice, he would say "want of prudence," "want of tact," "want of knowledge," "want of purpose," and above all things, "want of Method:"

Yes, write it up large: WANT OF METHOD; the true cause of half the failures in life. It has broken up homes, destroyed life's prospects, blighted ambitions, wrecked businesses, and broken men down in the heyday of life with worry, anxiety and sorrow. It has sent men to workhouses, lunatic asylums and prisons - aye, and filled many a grave. - Gamble: Straight Talks on Business.

That is one kind of ligament between paragraphs. Another kind is demonstrative words: this, that, those, these:


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