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Book Review: The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional by Philip A. Yaffe

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Was learning grammar easy for you? It was for me. I could tell when something was not correct just because it "sounded" wrong. Subject-verb agreement and the conjugation of the verb "be" apparently had been taught to me through usage and example well enough that when I got to school, it just seemed natural. Experience certainly provided an excellent foundation upon which to build as the school system continued to teach grammar all the way through high school.

It has served me well and Philip Yaffe, the author of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional agrees with the concept. "Few good writers and speakers [seldom think about fundamental writing principles while writing], because somehow they have assimilated them without ever actually having been taught them." Mr. Yaffe feels that the underlying core elements of the discipline of writing have not been sufficiently noticed or taught. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the author sets out to provide for this insufficiency.

The Gettysburg Approach appropriately begins with the famous speech that legend claims was written on the back of an envelope. Surprisingly, there is no further reference to the work until Appendix "J" wherein we find a detailed examination of the 272 word classic. Using the same fundamentals and techniques presented earlier in the book, Yaffe presents a chapter that alone is worth the investment in his book. As a bonus, we also discover he has included a similar examination of the "Marc Anthony" soliloquy from Julius Caesar. The similarities are remarkable and the inspiration doubled.

Between the two appearances of President Lincoln's masterpiece we find the book separated into three sections: writing, oral presentations, and 13 appendices (more than half the book) which include examples, analysis, reviews, and for the serious student, exercises. In "Fundamentals of Good Writing," Mr. Yaffe accomplishes his goal of drawing attention to the underlying principles and techniques that make these key elements so effective. Being aware of and using them will help writers of any level of experience produce better work. Many of his tips and suggestions will be familiar to serious writers. Other ideas and techniques presented strike the professional and novice like a ray suddenly emerging from behind the clouds. Just as with my grammar experience in school, I discovered several things I'm doing as a writer that are correct. Now I know why and can continue to do them on purpose with greater confidence. In addition, I am enthusiastically employing new ideas and techniques gleaned from Yaffe's thorough examination.

Unfortunately, there is little I can endorse in the section on public speaking. We do agree on the importance of thorough preparation and the requirement that the speaker be enthusiastic about his subject and delivery. My career has included professional speaking, teaching speakers, and many hours of being an audience member. In my experience, several suggestions in The Gettysburg Approach have been proven unreliable at best and disastrous at worst. Memorizing and/or reading speeches (either professional or informal), planned body language, and reading power point presentations are torture for the audience. Public speaking is something best learned by doing. Choose a safe environment where attention is given to what you do correctly. You don't need an "ah" counter. And remember, the average attention span of adults is about seven minutes.

Buy The Gettysburg Approach for the sections on writing [it will be available after March 15, 2010]. Refer to it many times and, if possible, complete the challenge of the exercises. Use this book and you will become a better writer.

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  • That is a great review. I am sure the book has a lot to offer for any of us. I guess if I finally go for reading ALL books I HAVE TO I will have no time for writing though.

  • Thanks Chip for the information. I agree completely on the public speaking part. I’ve done a bunch of it in my life & it has to be natural or it doesn’t work….no matter how good your material is.