Writing is a skill; like other skills, it can be learnt, and like most skills it is not inborn. For example, few people lack the basic equipment to learn to ride a bicycle (balance, strength, sight), but most become skilful cyclists only after much practice. Confidence is the main necessity, and having the courage to get on and try. The same is true of writing. Most people have the basic equipment (tact, experience, language), but like riding a bicycle, writing is a skill that must be learnt by doing it. No amount of reading, or absorbing rules and advice, can substitute for practice. So as we offer advice and give examples, our main aim is to reassure you that early 'wobbly' efforts at writing are quite normal. Don't be discouraged by the writer's equivalent of grazed knees. Practice will bring co-ordination and control that will change writing from an apparently hazardous exercise to an efficient means of getting somewhere.
We start from the assumption that thinking about writing can improve it, and that everyone can learn to write well. Most people, in reality, are better at writing than they fear. They can write successful letters to friends and effective complaints about faulty goods. These writing tasks require the same basic skills as long reports, detailed instructions, or complex letters or memoranda. Judgement of what the audience needs to know, tact in assessing which way to present this information to them most usefully, and the resources of language to do the job exist in everyone. We all develop a basic storehouse of skills. It is drawn on to tell successful jokes at the bar, to shout at the other driver, to persuade a friend to do something with you. This book sets out to encourage a more conscious use of those skills.