Reading Room
Welcome to the Reading Room, a space for anyone fascinated — or flummoxed — by the way people use and abuse English in the workplace.  Here you'll find a collection of offbeat pieces about business, legal, and technical writing (some of which have been published elsewhere).

  • Abe's Mother and the Passive Voice
    Avoid the passive voice is orthodox advice – but it is silly, simplistic, and treacherous, no matter how many experts chant it. This essay, loaded with quirky examples, explains how the practical writer decides which voice to use. The issue isn’t as complicated as many people make it.

  • 54k PDF

  • A (or An) Historical Dilemma
    This is a short play, whose characters have an impossible time deciding whether to use "a or "an" in front of "historic" and "historical." The dialogue may strike you as absurd, but it’s close to what actually occurred in the summer of 1999.

  • 20k PDF

  • 25 Hiccoughs of Guidance that Ruin Writing Style
    Many tenacious beliefs about proper English usage and style are simply wrong – and the damage they cause is greater than most people realize. Half-truths and fallacies not only clutter our thinking and cost us time, but they also force us to contort the language, to say what we don’t truly mean, and to torment the reader with profoundly cockeyed phrasing. This essay examines 25 of the common false taboos.
    150k PDF

  • The Ethics of Style
    This is the most "academic" of the essays here. It examines two transactional documents not in terms of clarity, but in terms of the writer’s decision-making ethics. It goes on to show that style itself – not content, but the expression of content – ultimately takes its shape from the writer’s ethics.
    36k PDF

  • O Ate 2 of Jill'r Pairs
    This article, published in a journal devoted to legal writing, argues that although legal writing does need serious reform, we should start by reforming the idiom of law, and leave the conventions of English alone.
    20k PDF

  • Testimony Before the Oregon Legislature Concerning HB2702
    In the spring of 2007, Oregon was considering whether to enact Plain Language legislation. I was asked to provide testimony addressing two issues: the cost of implementing Plain Language, and the fear that Plain Language might undermine legal validity. I include the text here because it might prove useful for other entities (corporations and agencies, as well as governments) who are concerned about these issues.
    37k PDF

  • Wake Up Grumpy – and Teach Him Direct Address
    This is a meditation on a coffee mug that has an ambiguous message printed on the inside of the rim. I suppose it’s basically a complaint, hurled at the open-mouthed universe, that people just don’t care about the convention of direct address anymore.
    66k PDF

  • NO Potato Salad
    This short, goofy encounter really happened, and it instantly struck me as a kind of fable. It makes the point that you can be a lot more efficient by telling your reader what something is than by telling him what it isn't.
    7k PDF

  • Phludge
    This is Chapter One of The Devil's Stylebook, an eccentric work in progress.  In it, Lucifer (the author) lists and explains dozens of handy rationalizations you can use to achieve the abominable kind of workplace writing he wants — in his words, "hellish style."
    129k PDF

    Lauchman Group
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    Rockville, MD 20852

    Telephone 301-315-6040
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    Our Clientele
    ABB Environmental Services
    American Bankers Association
    American Chemical Society
    American Institute of Architects
    American Red Cross
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    Agency for International Development
    The Baldwin Group
    British Aerospace
    Bureau of the Public Debt
    CAIS Internet
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    Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank
    Defense Communications Agency
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    Department of Agriculture
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    DoD Office of the Comptroller
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    Edison Electric Institute
    Fannie Mae
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    Federal Home Loan Bank Board
    Federal Trade Commission
    First American Bankshares
    Freddie Mac
    Goddard Space Flight Center
    ICF Kaiser Engineers
    I.M. Systems Group
    Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    InterAmerican Foundation
    John Hanson Savings and Loan
    Lockheed Martin
    Military District of Washington
    Mortgage Bankers Association
    NASA Headquarters
    National Archives and Records Administration
    National Association of Child Care Resource
       & Referral Agencies
    National Education Association
    National Institutes of Health
    National Cancer Institute
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    National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal
    National Institutes of Science and Technology
    National Ocean Service
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    Nextel Communications
    Northeast-Midwest Institute
    Office of Technology Assessment
    Perot Systems
    Perpetual Savings Bank
    Potomac Electric Power Company
    Project Performance Corporation
    Riggs National Bank
    Ryland Homes
    Sallie Mae
    Small Business Administration
    Smithsonian Institution
    State Department
    Technology Planning and Management Corporation
    United Savings Bank
    U.S. Geological Survey
    U.S. Office of Personnel Management
    U.S. Patent and Trademark Office