Christopher Johnson’s knowledge as a linguist and expert verbal branding consultant is put to use in Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little. The guide sets out to help ordinary people understand how to write effectively in a world of Facebook status updates, Twitter feeds, and blogs.
Microstyle is organized into four main categories of language convention: Meaning, Sound, Structure, and Social Context. Each section contains a brief introduction into the category to familiarize the reader and then breaks into smaller chapters that describe finer details within the category like “Tap into Metaphor” and “Use Grammar Expressively.” Johnson’s writing style throughout these sections and chapters is conversational, well supported, and realistic. These characteristics help make this guide transcend the inherent problem with most style guides—they are boring and hard to follow.
With most style guides I’ve used as an English teacher, the main approach is authoritarian. I know my students struggle with style guides because they don’t easily connect the lessons to realistic applications. Johnson, however, uses an approach that blends the authoritarian view with a more contextual one to show the reader how effective understanding microstyle can be. For example, he discusses the importance of rhythm in a micromessage. Johnson presents key terms like iambs (unstressed syllable, stressed syllable) and trochees (stressed syllable, unstressed syllable). He then applies those terms to well-known micromessages. He uses Hallmark’s motto, When You Care Enough To Send The Very Best, and shows how it uses rhythm in a diagram of its stressed and unstressed syllables. By explaining concepts in such a way, Johnson allows the reader to not just memorize the lesson but also to understand its applications in the real world. He also does an excellent job of reusing micromessages throughout other lessons, which helps the reader connect to the material.
As an English teacher I find Johnson’s book to be very interesting in both a negative and positive way. I strive to teach proper grammar and language precision. Johnson points out in his introduction, “Our culture conflates grammar and style with correctness because, until recently, most people wrote only when they were being formally evaluated…” (13). I take exception to the notion that grammar and style correctness is a function of formal evaluation and not everyday usage. I strive for my students to use my lessons in everything from essays to Facebook posts. On the positive side, however, I fully believe this is a guide that provides easily useable knowledge to anyone looking to improve clarity and effectiveness in any type of writing, not just microstyle.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.