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Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little
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Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  252 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Some of the most important verbal messages we craft are also the shortest: headlines, titles, sound bites, brand names, domain names, slogans, taglines, company mantras, email signatures, bullet points. These miniature messages depend not on the elements of style but rather on the atoms of style. They require microstyle. Branding consultant Christopher Johnson here reveals ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published July 25th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company
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3.68  · 
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 ·  252 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Mar 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: media
I was expecting more of a how-to guide, but “Microstyle” is more a “field guide” categorizing new words, names, and short phrases. The approach is from the academic side instead of the practical side. The author describes twenty or so ways that words and phrases can stand out, good and bad. He does this by defining specific areas of how meaning, sound, context and social structure can lead the consumer of the short writing to think one way or another. Much of what is discussed is relationships – ...more
Erika Dreifus
In the six years that I have reviewed books for The Writer magazine, I have written about books that help us write novels and some that assist in penning poetry. I have shared collections of interviews with famous authors and collections of essays by the same. Over the years, I have begun noticing – and bringing to readers’ attention – books that I could not have anticipated at the start: books about email, new media and other quite recent additions to our world. Microstyle: The Art of Writing L ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I spent many weeks reading this book. Not because it was difficult, boring, or laborious. Quite the opposite. I chose to read a few chapters at a time, then let Christopher Johnson's ideas and observations sink in and influence my work. Microstyle taught me a great deal, reminded me of truths I have forgotten, and reinforced my own approach to writing with brevity and creative expression.

I guess what I'm saying is that Christopher Johnson made me feel smart. What's not to love?

So now "Microstyle
John Damaso
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I've read entirely on an iPad. Readers might want to mock a 246-page book on "Microstyle," a term which Johnson uses frequently in following his own "verbal branding" advice, for its length, but it is so full of examples drawn from The Onion, Twitter, the history of advertising, political campaigns, pop television, etc. that it offers practical advice on developing your "micro voice." His invented jargon aside, I think Johnson started the book with an interest -- word eco ...more
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this for the purposes of interviewing the author on Radioactive, however I found myriad connections between his thoughts on language and the essays I'm currently reading for my literary theory class in graduate school. I might just be a big ol' nerd, but it's fun to see how technology is quickly affecting the rules of language and literature. Also, a definite read for anyone interested in promoting themselves or their business online. Oh, and despite his admonishment of the grammar police ...more
Mike Violano
May 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
A promising start. Then the author started slip sliding away on linguistics and the meaning of words, slogans and offered many, many, too many examples. A book on microstyle should practice the art of writing little or at least less. There are wise nuggets here but they are sprinkled among too many pages.
Very interesting and quick read. How to get yourself heard quickly and effectively - be personal, be brief, be interesting, be relevant.
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
A great book on communication that is as useful as it is entertaining. I'll be thinking about the many illustrations offered for a long time.
Erica Cresswell
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review refers to the 2011 copy of “Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little” by Christopher Johnson, PhD. It was printed by W.W. Norton & Company Inc.

Here's an excerpt from the book jacket: “Once the province of professional wordsmiths, the art of the short message now is not only available to everyone but also increasingly important to our personal and professional lives.” I picked up the book because I wanted to learn how to tweet better.

I found the book incredibly interesting. It was a
Lennart Guldbrandsson
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a student of linguistics and a writer by profession, I liked very much that the book collected some of the best thoughts from diverse fields of linguistics and rhetoric that are handy for anyone who's writing - and nowadays, who isn't? I would have liked even more if the ending gave more of the same feeling that the beginning did, but the ending was a bit bland. But the beginning and middle are so good that the book's totally worth buying and reading.
Tatiana Sheko
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've used this book in writing interest group as an interesting way to write short pieces of different styles from prompts. The students enjoy it and I think, with a little more imagination it could be used in different ways.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great examples of both great and terrible short messages... Especially liked the sixwordstories
Graham Okely
This book explains short messages. Some of the content would be good in usual English lessons at school. A good collection and discussion about the choice of business slogans.
Feb 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Your content: sliced, diced & cubed
Thinking about language, says Christopher Johnson, is a “strange” activity.

We think we know how to use language to express ourselves but we don’t really understand how language actually works, how words actually end up being expressive and meaningful.

The linguist in Johnson reminds us that when we communicate the words we use don’t directly transmit the meaning. Rather it’s the other way around – the person we’re communicating with uses the words we send a
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book through First Reads, and I was not disappointed! This will be a book that I plan to reference regularly as I work to be concise and clear in both my professional and personal communication.

This is technically a reference book, but it really is more of an informational and inspirational reference than an instructional guide. If you're prone to wordiness, this book won't give you much in the way of direct advice to help you curtail that habit. But if you're already working on
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Christopher Johnson's Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little is more than a style guide for the post-Twitter age but a guide on branding, blurbs, and compression writing in general.

This is a very useful introduction to the art of small writing, and the skills necessary in order to do this effectively. With the advent of smartphones and social media guides, such as this, will become an essential part of a writer's reference library. Given that everyone is now a writer, whether it be on Facebook,
Shawn Stone
Jun 16, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a well-organized book of tips on communicating well in short bursts. It's useful for anyone who wants to get a lot across in short messages. There are ample examples and top tips for artful alliteration, potent poetic pontification and practical, pointed prose. The structure is purposefully formulaic, with each micro-chapter no longer than four pages with a clear declaration at the beginning of each section and then a summary restatement at the end. I could imagine this being something I ...more
Jul 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I was chosen to receive this book for free through Goodreads First Reads. Thank You!

I am giving up. I just can't finish the book at this time. To be fair, I liked parts of what I read. Once I actually got into the chapters, the book improved. However, I am finding that the author is not holding my attention. I will probably give it a try again when I am on a school break.

When I write papers, I tend to go over the word limit. I find myself cutting content repeatedly. I was hoping that this book w
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, career
This is a book about finding the crunchy hidden meanings of words and phrases and then using them to efficiently deliver a message. Most of the examples are from advertising or headlines, with a few movie and book titles thrown in. Then again, it's not so much a book about how to do that as it is a book about how others have done it. In that sense, it's not very successful. On the other hand, for anyone that loves words and writing and wants to think a little deeper about how words work, it's an ...more
University of Chicago Magazine
Christopher Johnson, AB'87

From our pages (Nov–Dec/11): "Well before Twitter, poets, ad copywriters, and political spinners knew what branding consultant Christopher Johnson discusses here: some of the most important messages are also the shortest. Johnson examines why minimessages hit and miss, discusses the tools that make them memorable, and explores the evolution of mass media into more personal forms of communication."
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: grammarians, writers, wordsmiths, etc
Recommended to Josh by: shelf @ UAPL
i'll admit that this book isn't what i was expecting it to be. either way, it was still an enjoyable lesson in concise writing, grammar, syntax, characteristics of language. etc. i'm not sure i'll be a noticeably better tweeter or blogger b/c of it - but maybe something will stick and i'll take better notice of some of my writing and pay more careful attention to the way i construct some sentences that i'm looking to add some punch to.
Cynthia K
Jul 21, 2011 rated it liked it
I won my advance reading copy through Goodreads. I now feel a lot of pressure to write an amazing review demonstrating that I paid attention to the advice of the author. I enjoyed this thoroughly modern style book that used lots of examples to illustrate its points. While the author's background is in business, anyone who needs to write or communicate can learn from his knowledge of linguistics and experience in branding.
Elaine Bearden
Ha! Didn't finish reading but I really am intrigued by this book and the author's background. He considers his book a "field guide" as opposed to a proscriptive approach to grammar of the grammar manuals of before. Fascinating. I've heard of microstories, too - don't know if he gets into those specifically or not. He has a Ph.D. in Linguistics and seems to mainly have worked as a verbal branding consultant. Fascinating.
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: digital, writing, teaching
This is the only book I know that offers thoughtful and useful advice to writers working onscreen rather than on the page. Christopher Johnson ground what he has to say about microstyle in research in linguistics and discourse analysis. His advice is sometimes repetitious, and sometimes less than startling, but I like how he offers ideas for thinking about style rather than simply rules to follow. A good book, which I've used in my last two courses on Digital Writing at Duke.
I found this book to be kind of boring. Nothing in it was very enlightening with regard to concision, which is what I was hoping for. It's more about constructing meaningful messages in a 140-character age and, as a result, sort of gets into writing copy and how to make quality advertisements. I didn't finish the book, so I can't be 100% about it, but once I learned that it wasn't really about concision I tuned out.
Aaron Sandford
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Interesting read, especially for language geeks interested in language for its own sake. Johnson talks about everything from the poetic effects of the sounds of words to the usefulness and danger of ambiguity. His ideas are interesting and well-articulated on their own and very useful for anyone using Tweeter or involved with branding or copywriting. The book is full of real-world examples—both good and bad—that help illustrate his points and make them relatable.
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it
I was expecting more practical advice RE crafting brief emails, effective social media messages, etc. But there are some things I learned that I will use in class and keep in mind for my own writing (e.g. sound qualities). A lot about marketing and branding; some good history and linguistics theory explained in a way any layman can understand.
Rae M.
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for people interested in language, and of course, writers.

It's really quite brilliant, the author really takes in account the different social aspects--mostly on the web, all the while covering things like the elevator pitch and company names. It really goes into the reasons why we like the simple things we do--like Coca-Cola.
Jun 30, 2012 rated it liked it
A fun field guide to the snippets of language that make up so much of modern writing. Johnson has a few good points to make about writing, but more importantly he has a fun, informal look at interesting examples in ads, tweets, names, and other linguistic morsels. I recommend it for anyone with even a small web presence.
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Johnson gives apt advice, explains the rationale clearly, and provides positive and negative examples. I learned about trochees, kennings, and formulas for Onion headlines.

The book loses steam at the end, but not so much that I wouldn't recommend it.

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Christopher Johnson, an independent verbal branding consultant, received his PhD in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked at Lexicon, one of the country's top naming firms. He lives in Seattle, Washington.