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WriteArt - Author: Russell de la PorteWriteArt

Russell de la Porte

The role of writing in higher education

Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world’. He was talking from personal experience: he first used this tool to change his world, and this enabled him to change the world outside of himself.

Many young adults emerge from school with basic language skills, particularly those of reading and writing. They will have used these mostly to gain further subject-specific knowledge during their primary and secondary schooling. Yet tertiary education requires more advanced, self-reflective reading, writing and thinking skills.

Of these three skills, the advanced, self-reflective writing skill drives learning the other two. To illustrate this, not far into students’ first tertiary courses, they will be required to complete written assignments – usually essays – on the material covered up to that point. To do so, they will need to read the material; they may need to do research to complement their readings; and they will need to organize their thoughts. All of this will be driven by the requirement to write on their topic.

Hence, in learning to understand how topic sentences work in writing expository texts, one learns how to identify these while reading and thinking about others’ texts and to apply them in structuring one’s own texts. Another aspect of the self-reflective, advanced writing skill is understanding the creative process and writing with this understanding. In a broader sense, the creative process is synonymous with the learning process.

If students have not been taught these advanced, self-reflective skills prior to embarking on their tertiary studies, they would do well to take responsibility for acquiring them, starting with learning about the creative process, the writing process, and language structuring terms and conventions. A very cost-effective way to do this would be to purchase The Natural Creative Process in Writing: A Core Writing and Editing Handbook for Everyone.

With their newly acquired self-reflective, advanced writing skill, students could progress to gaining more skill in the areas of reading and thinking.

With all three advanced foundational skills in place, success in the academic and working careers of everyone – no matter their age and stage – will be that much closer. They will be, as Nelson Mandela was, positioned to change their own lives and to influence the world as he did.

By Russell de la Porte

A companion on your writing journeys

In my blog of 7 July 2013, I wrote about the importance of the written aspect of your personal and professional brands. In that blog, I spoke of the role of good writing but also the role of effective copy-editing in representing yourself and your business in the best way possible. But how do you acquire these skills without investing in courses in, or specialized books on writing and applied linguistics, specifically text linguistics, or employing a specialist in these fields?

Then, in my blog of 8 January 2014, I dealt with consistency as one of the mechanisms for enhancing your personal and professional brands, as conveyed in your written communications. I dealt with style manuals, style guides and style sheets as means to achieving consistency. But where do you learn about these, without attending a copy-editing course or buying a copy-editing reference work?

Language variety, as one aspect of style, was dealt with in my next blog of 25 February 2014. Selecting a language variety for your written communications implies being able to identify your target readers (or audience); this is only one element of the writing context that you will need to consider. But where do you find a straightforward guide to these elements?

Finally, in my blog of 31 March 2014, I wrote about how to get your writing – and other projects – started and finished. This involves understanding how the writing process works. But where do you go to learn this in a straightforward way?

There is one handbook that succinctly answers all of these questions. Its title is The Natural Creative Process in Writing: A Core Writing and Editing Handbook for Everyone (paperback – ISBN 978-0-620-60121-4; ebook – ISBN 978-0-620-60121-4). I wrote this book because since my early twenties, I have looked for a clear, accessible guide to the writing process (a form of the natural creative process), good writing, and effective editing. It is the book I have always wanted to own, to carry with me on all my writing journeys.

The Natural Creative Process in Writing: A Core Writing and Editing Handbook for Everyone is available through most bookstores. For further information, email

By Russell de la Porte

Writing to create

Everyone who can write, writes; therefore, everyone who can write is a writer (here writing incorporates typing and text-inputting using a keyboard or other text-inputting methods). We all have written for various reasons, including for planning (grocery lists, daily task lists), discovery (journal writing, noting ideas relating to a project), recording (note-taking during lectures, taking minutes of meetings), communicating (letters of complaint, letters of congratulations), and verbal-art making (poems, short stories, flash fiction, novellas, novels, plays).

Everyone also creates. When we create, we participate in a creative process – a natural creative process – and understanding how this process unfolds will allow us to become more effective in all areas of our lives. Furthermore, understanding the creative process as it applies to writing will enable us to use this tool for creating and living the lives we want.

When we have this knowledge, we have powerful tools for living a productive, effective and fulfilled life. If we acquire and start applying this knowledge at high, or secondary school, we will be positioned to leverage it at college or university – our tertiary education – to the satisfaction of our professors, supervisors and other educators. And of course, this satisfaction will reflect back on us, ensuring our success in our studies. We will be able to continue using this knowledge throughout our lives, bringing us meaning, success and, consequently, wellbeing.

This knowledge about the creative process and how it applies to writing is the result of the author’s long career as a writer, editor and teacher. Over the last four years, the author has developed and piloted the ‘The Natural Creative Process in Writing and Life’ course.

This course will be presented on 9, 10 and 16 April 2014 at Alive Café and Creative Experience Hub, in Muizenberg, Western Cape, South Africa. To book your place on this course, email Russell/WriteArt using the links below.

The ‘Natural Creative Process in Writing and Life’ course is also offered online for those not able to attend the venue-based course.

For venue-based and online course information and bookings, email

By Russell de la Porte

English variety – an aspect of style

Following the theme of my last blog (also a theme in my first blog), here I deal with another aspect of style, namely, language variety. The term language variety covers aspects such as dialect, accent, spelling and punctuation, among others. While there are many varieties of English, such as,
Canadian English, Australian English and South African English, to name a few, British English and American English are the most-used varieties. At the end of this blog, I compare American English (AmE), British (BrE) English and South African English (SAE). In doing so, I focus on the main aspects of variety that apply to writing, rather than those that apply to speaking.


An important aspect of writing is considering your audience and the medium of delivery of your message, or text. This, in turn, will determine the language variety that you select. So, for example, if you are an academic based in the United States of America, writing an academic article that you hope to have published in a US-based academic journal, you will select US, or American, English as your language variety, assuming that the style guide of your target publication specifies this variety of English.


When you send your article to a copy-editor for editing, it would be useful for you to supply the style guide of your target publication, or to specify the language variety selected for your text.

In many respects South African English is similar to British English, but in others it resembles American English, for example, the -ize endings typical of American English (see ‘Spelling’, below). Because of this and their wide reading of American books, South African copy-editors are well positioned to edit texts in both British and American English. Furthermore, English is the native language of many South Africans.

These factors make South African editors an appealing option when choosing an editor for your text.

An added appeal of using a South African editor is the current favourable exchange rate for many countries. At the time of publication, the rand (ZAR) to dollar (USD) exchange rate is 10.7999:1; for the pound (GBP), it is 18.0070:1; and for the euro (EUR), it is 14.8457:1.  


With these factors in mind, it would be worthwhile for you to consider using a South African copy-editor for the next piece you write. 

Comparison of AmE, BrE and SAE
Here, I compare American English, British English and South African English under the headings ‘Spelling’, ‘Punctuation: quotation marks’ and ‘Diction’.

American English (AmE)
British English (BrE)
South African English (SAE)
Ending: -ize/-ise
predominantly organise, but also organize
predominantly organize, but also organise
Ending: -ence/-ense
Ending: -ize/-yse
Ending: -ogue/-og
predominantly catalog, but also catalogue
Ending: -our
Ending: -re
Ending: vowel plus -l

Spelling: double vowels


Punctuation: quotation marks
The most important difference among the three varieties discussed in terms of punctuation relates to the type of quotation marks used and the positioning of commas relative to the closing quotation mark.
In British and South African English, single quotation marks are used for quotes and titles of unpublished works, chapters of books, lectures, radio and television programmes, short musical works, short poems, short stories and songs. In American English, double quotation marks are used for these.
In British and South African English, single quotation marks are used for quotes, with double quotation marks used for quotes within quotes; in American English the reverse applies.
Concerning commas that form part of the punctuation of a passage – not of the quoted words – in British and South African English, these are placed outside of the closing quotation mark; in American English, these are placed within the closing quotation mark. 

The relative pronoun which is predominantly used in British English for both defining (or restrictive) and non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clauses. In American English, the relative pronoun that is used for defining (or restrictive) relative clauses, and which is used for non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clauses. South African English alternates between these two styles.

By Russell de la Porte

What is a style guide, and why have one?

In my last blog, I touched on the role of consistency and continuity in signalling a brand’s reliability. This, in turn, builds trust. In a fast-paced world, we tend to turn to brands that are reliable and that we can therefore trust. When organizations repeatedly deliver on their promises, this relationship is cemented.

For organizations, what is the means to establishing and maintaining this consistency and continuity in their written messages? It is the organizational style guide that sets out the various aspects of style – font type and size, language variety (British vs American spelling), and capitalization, to name but a few – for the organization. The style guide can have various names, depending on the environment. In a corporation, it could be called the corporate style guide; for a university department, it may be called the departmental style guide; for a magazine, it is often called the magazine style guide, or sometimes, the publication style guide.

A style guide may be derived from one or more style manuals. Style sheets are used to record new styles that have been required and applied. Thus, style guides are at a hierarchical level between style manuals and style sheets.

Organizational style guides are usually stored centrally, where they can be accessed by the staff who require them. Certain people are usually tasked with overseeing and updating the guide. Their responsibilities include implementing new styles and changes suggested by stakeholders, recorded in style sheets.

Training in copy-editing equips the style guide administrators with the with the necessary skills. WriteArt’s Core Copy-editing Course (with Emphasis on Electronic Document Editing) deals with style extensively and would be a good course for anyone implementing and administering an organizational style guide to take – see WriteArt’s Courses web page for information on this course and the News & Notices page for the next course dates.

Because the work of professional copy-editors involves using style manuals, style guides and style sheets on an ongoing basis, they are well suited to setting up an organization’s style guide, and to consulting on the processes – and with the staff – necessary to maintain it.

If you feel that your company could benefit from developing a style guide, or from having an existing style guide updated, perhaps together with implementing the necessary support structures and processes, contact Russell at WriteArt for more information. WriteArt, a company with years of experience in the copy-editing field, is ideally positioned to offer all of these services.

By Russell de la Porte

Why words matter

Most companies would not imagine designing (or redesigning) their logo without the help of an adept visual communicator, in other words, a graphic designer. They consider the visual aspects of their brands important enough to be placed in the hands of professionals. And once their logo has been designed, most companies insist on using it consistently in all of their communications. After all, this consistency signifies continuity, reliability, trustworthiness. People judge on appearances, but they also judge on the ability to match appearances. Image and substance must match; the two are the ingredients of marketing success.  
If this is the approach taken by most companies to their visual messages, why not take the same approach to their verbal messages? If it is true that the verbal aspects of our brands, our communications, have the same impact on our markets, why not place these in the hands of professionals too? And who are these professionals?
They are professional writers and copy-editors. Writers produce the verbal messages that appeal to target markets: good writers engage and retain readers. But unless they are also skilled copy-editors, they may not produce copy that is linguistically and stylistically aligned with the brand: there may be errors,inconsistencies, which will counter the message of continuity and reliability that the brand guardians wish to convey.

To produce brand-aligned copy, both professional writers and copy-editors are needed. And while there are those who combine these roles with ease, this may not always be the case, be this the consequence of choice or ability. Copy-editing, you see, involves the ability to engage at a deep level with a text, often for long, lonely periods – and often with deadlines looming. This is exacting work. 

Whether your brand is a personal one or that of your company, it – you – will be judged by your writing. Your intelligence, your creativity, your ability will be judged by your writing: well written texts promote respect for the perceived author’s ideas, products and services. Unfortunately, the opposite also applies.    
So you could have your copy professionally written and copy-edited by a company, freelancer, or in-house staff member, or you could acquire these skills yourself – or you could combine these roles. But just as you would not wear a crumpled, ill-fitting suit to a gala dinner in your honour, do not risk your reputation by packaging it badly – in poorly written, unedited copy.

By Russell de la Porte


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