Philip A. Yaffe’s latest book The Gettysburg Approach To Writing & Speaking Like A Professional offers fresh insights into the art of producing expository text. Drawing from his rich experience as a feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, as well as that of a marketing communication consultant to several companies in Belgium and abroad, Yaffe fills the book with basic principles, explanations and exercises that help the amateur writer and speaker to emulate Abraham Lincoln’s world-famous address at Gettysburg. Teachers may also use it as a workbook for their wards in the classroom.
Yaffe denies the neutrality of any element of a text. His most important tip: “Whatever that doesn’t add to a text, subtracts from it.” The purpose of professional expository writing, he asserts, is to inform and instruct. Since people would rather spend their time being amused and entertained, the fundamental attitude should be: “No one wants to read what you are going to write.” So what can be done? Yaffe’s approach is simple and powerful: “Organize information to generate interest.” Appendix B is all about how to excite reader interest.
The principles of clarity, concision and density take the form of near mathematical equations. Besides the inverted pyramid structure, Yaffe explains the separation technique, stop reading test and the question and answer method. Appendix L discusses Yaffe’s law: “If you give people what they want first, they are likely to accept anything else you want them to have. If you give them what you want first, chances are they won’t accept anything at all.”
About oral presentations, Yaffe first explains the similarities and differences between speaking and writing and offers tips on making a naked presentation, which is nothing but plain speech without any visual aid. If the objective is to convey information, ‘use summaries’. If the objective is to convey a single key idea, ‘use a quotation or a piece of poetry’. He also offers tips on body language and preparation of effective slides.
Such a good book, unfortunately, is not free of typographical errors. There is another shortcoming, too. Though Yaffe discusses in some detail the Gettysburg Address (and that too in an appendix), he fails to show how the principles of writing and speaking work in Lincoln’s text. Perhaps, Yaffe has thought that the intelligent reader should not be insulted with what to the writer is obvious. But that is a violation of Yaffe’s own principle that listeners do not lose anything if they are ‘talked down to’, but will be certainly at sea if something is rapidly said or glossed over.