Harold Keables taught me how to write. He was my English high-school teacher in the early seventies (1970s, not 1870s). I wasn’t that great a student, so he’s probably having a good laugh in heaven watching me write books and blogs.

Mr. Keables used Good Writing: An Informal Manual of Style when I was in his class. While poking around my old school’s web site, I discovered that Dr. Michael LaGory, another teacher at the school, wrote The Keables Guide after Mr. Keables passed away. The book reflects the writing philosophy and teaching method of Mr. Keables.

If you’re interested in writing, I’d highly recommend that you read it. And who doesn’t need to write? Letters, emails, pitches, business plans, articles, web-site content, or, God help you, a blog are all forms of writing. The Keables Guide is in the same class as The Elements of Style and If You Want to Write.

In short, his methodology was to mark up our writing with his red pen, and then we would have to write the original sentence, cite the rule that we broke, and correctly re-write the sentence. Trust me when I tell you that we learned grammar very quickly. :-)

Here is an example of the rules that Mr. Keables evangelized. To this day, this anti-passive rule, well, rules my writing. For example, in the final drafts of my book, I search for every instance of “by” and “be” to look for places that I can eliminate the passive voice.

PV: change passive voice to active. Many passives are easy to correct; just find the thing that is taking the action and make it the subject of the verb:

PASSIVE VOICE: The food is eaten by me.

ACTIVE VOICE: I eat the food.

Often, however, passive voice has no “by” phrase because it is disguising unclear thinking which fails to identify exactly who is doing what to whom:

VAGUE: The ideas are shown using imagery.

CLEAR: Frost uses images to show the ideas.

VAGUE: Without care, errors are made.

CLEAR: Careless writers make errors.

VAGUE: It is felt you are wrong.

CLEAR: I feel you are wrong.

Grammar Tip: The passive voice is useful when you want to emphasize the recipient of the action: “The bridge was constructed quickly.” Usually, however, passive voice is less concise, energetic and natural than active voice. Suppose Dr. King had said, “A dream is had by me.”

Thank you, Mr. Keables, for forcing your system down my throat.