The title of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional spells out its focus -- writing and speaking -- but one must read at least the introductory sections of the book to discover the form of writing on which Mr. Yaffe focuses (expository writing). He expounds on three principles (clarity, conciseness, and density) in this book, and he specifically discusses the journalist's technique of loading the content into the beginning of the story (the inverted pyramid structure).

This book will not always be helpful to fiction writers because it is aimed at people who have to write for their jobs and aren't trained to do so, but it has some techniques that writers of all sorts may find helpful.

I had trouble appreciating his description of "appropriate" writing attitudes. In his opinion, the appropriate attitude for creative writing is "Everyone wants to read what I am going to write," while that for expository writing is "No one wants to read what I am going to write." First, I can't agree with his analysis of creative writing that everyone wants to be amused and entertained; therefore, everyone must want to read any given piece of creative writing (fiction or memoir, though he doesn't explicitly state the latter). Not everyone will be amused and entertained by the same thing, and good writers know and accept that not everyone will appreciate their work.

In that same vein, I often find nonfiction entertaining, whether it be looking through the recipes of chocolate desserts in a cookbook as I decide which to make, studying gardening manuals, or reading history books. A clue to his real meaning can be found in his section on the fundamentals of good writing, where he defines expository writing as, "Texts such as memos, reports, proposals, training manuals, newsletters, and research papers." Most of the time, I certainly don't want to read those.

Within this framework, however, Mr. Yaffe does provide some useful tools for trained writers. He mentions the importance of answering the 5 Ws & H (who, what, where, when, why, and how), and he gives general writing tips and techniques, including "separation for dramatic impact" (He touches on this again in one of the appendices, as "paragraph lay-outing." The point is that sometimes, it's best to separate a sentence or two from others to create more emphasis on that idea -- something true in both fiction and nonfiction.), repetition for clarity (Yes, it can better to use the same word more than once, rather than write around it with euphemisms. In Appendix J, he analyzes how the repetition of "honorable man" and "ambitious" work in Marc Antony's soliloquy from Julius Caesar.), using strong verbs rather than weak verbs with nouns, weasel words, and choice of tenses. All of these are useful reminders for writers of any stripe.

After he covers the basics of writing, Mr. Yaffe proceeds to explain how these ideas translate to speaking. He discusses slide design, the need for a conclusion that sums up what has been said (which he does not for writing -- it violates the inverted triangle principle), and the idea that speakers receive a little more leeway than expository writers because listeners expect some entertainment. His coverage of speaking is quite good, and I wish I'd had it to refer to when I was in grad school and preparing talks about my research.

From there, Mr. Yaffe moves on to the appendices, which account for more than half the book. Some of the appendices repeat or enlarge ideas presented earlier in the book. Some of the appendices seemed redundant (Appendix L, for example, was a previously written article that had much of the same material as Appendix A.), and the special feature on the Jabberwocky appears to have been tacked on at the end because there was no logical place for it to be in the book (thus ignoring his dictum about clarity, wherein one eliminates the unimportant features). The revision exercises presented in the various appendices may be useful for those who are finding it difficult to capture the attention of their readers or who need structured advice on editing expository works.

Although there are pointers in this book that can be valuable for anyone at any stage of writing, the more experience one has, the more one will have to dig to find them. The overall structure of the book is somewhat confusing, as there seems to be no rationale for the ordering of the appendices, and even those at whom this book is targeted may have difficulty making sense of it. If they do persevere, though, their writing and speaking will feel the benefit of their efforts. A potentially useful book, but not one I can whole-heartedly recommend.

Note: An electronic review copy of this book was provided by the author.

The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional

By Philip Yaffe

Published by INDI Publishing Group, 2009

ISBN (13): 978-0-9789247-5-1

ISBN (10): 0-9789247-5-4