Books : reviews

Lyn Dupre.
BUGS in Writing: a guide to bebugging your prose.
Addison Wesley. 1995

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 2 February 1997

Lyn Dupré is a technical editor who wants to do herself out of a job; she wants to improve authors' writing skills. She has distilled her wisdom into a set of 150 guidelines, ranging from split infinitives, through the use of active voice, to how to write an abstract.

In order to help writers develop a good ear for their prose, she includes numerous examples, classified using BUGS: Bad (incorrect), Ugly (technically correct but stylistically poor), Good, and Splendid. These are not dry, copybook examples, but realistic sentences based on technical computing manuals, and also episodes from her own life, which appears to be highly cat-oriented. The latter examples can get a little cloying if you read too much of the book at once, but it is designed as a reference work, to be dipped into as the need arises.

I would quibble with a few of her rules. (I realise that it is always dangerous criticising a style guide: it invites criticism of one's own review.) For example, I think that data is no longer a plural noun, but has finished its transformation into a singular mass noun. And in regard to split infinitives, I side, as always, with Fowler. But, quibbles aside, this is an excellent book. If you were to follow all the rules, your own prose should become clearer, crisper, and grammatically correct.