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Concise and Precise: A Way to Force People to Think Before They Write

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: some advice about writing.

RS: For the past 18 years, Jim Allan has run a secretarial center in Los Angeles. He offers typing -- and a lot more. He draws on his background as a corporate lawyer in Canada to teach clients about what he calls "being concise and being precise."

AA: And it all starts with a sheet of lined paper.

JIM ALLAN: "Think about each thought that you want to write about, and write down one word to represent that thought. Write one word on the first line, one word on the second line, one word on the third line, so forth. When you've listed all your thoughts, look at them and see if they're in the order that you want them in. You may have to rewrite the list and put it in a different order.

"Having done that, then, expand that single word into one sentence. Now you can take each sentence, you can take sentence number one and you can write more sentences under that, just stick to the idea that's in the first sentence. But by doing what I'm describing, thinking of one word to represent one thought and another word to represent the next thought and so forth, you force the person to think before they write, to put it in a logical order, and of course it's concise."

RS: "And to think clearly, is what you're saying here."

JIM ALLAN: "Yes, do the thinking before you put the pen on the paper. I've done it with people in my office now and they come back and then they're like a different person, their writing is all of a sudden so clear for me. And I mean this technique benefits clients, it doesn't matter how well-spoken they are or how new they are to the American language."

AA: "Well, let me ask you, you tell us you've worked with Hollywood screenwriters, you're there in Los Angeles, and that some of your suggestions have been incorporated in films. I'm curious, have you also worked with television writers, and do you have any thoughts about the skills, or comparing movie and television writers?"

JIM ALLAN: "I really can't answer that question because although I work with them, it's not my main area. It's not challenging sitting and typing scripts. I mean, I've typed scripts for movies, for television.

"I have to say one of the most exciting things that I did in the office at one point was -- it's wasn't a script really, but it was an outline for a movie. And it was somebody that had infiltrated the drug trade in Florida and actually was working with Drug Enforcement and so forth. At the time I had people in my office working on other things, and it ended up they were all around the monitor of my computer and watching the words as I transcribed them, and they were showing on the screen. It was just very exciting."

AA: "Did it turn out into a big movie?"

JIM ALLAN: "I don't know. This often happens. People come in to me with material or problems and I do my part and it goes on from there."

AA: "You know, you sound like a Hollywood movie waiting to happen or a TV show or something."

JIM ALLAN: "I've had two producers tell me separately, independently, that they could do a sitcom on my office."

AA: "A situation comedy!"

JIM ALLAN: "I mean, my work is with university professors, with business management people. I have two clients that are involved in oil. I mean, you know, the hot spot of the world now is Dubai, which of course is getting some news. And I mean I'm dealing with Dubai all the time on behalf of my clients. Over there the royal family control a lot of the business, so I find myself communicating with the royal family over there."

AA: Jim Allan runs Allan's Secretarial Centers in the Marina del Rey area of Los Angeles.

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is, and our segments are all at With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.