...[a] humane and witty guide ... Moran is a professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University; he sounds like a drolly exacting teacher. Like most authors who wish to make writers of their readers, he spends part of his lesson telling us what not to do ... But Moran’s advice is chiefly positive. He is especially good on rhythm, syntax and structure ... At the calm heart of Moran’s rhetorically affable book is an idea of adroit aplomb. He thinks a sentence should slide down the gullet like a clam, hardly touching the sides. His own prose is much like this ... As a primer in generous and lively writing, First You Write a Sentence is blithe and convincing. But it’s possible to care too much for order, cool and elegance, to overpraise the magician’s sleight of hand and miss the trick itself. Moran doesn’t care for verbal or syntactic acrobatics, for writing that draws attention to itself. But isn’t extravagance sometimes itself the message? Don’t we long for some friction, some grit in the oyster?
[Moran] does not want to call his book a style guide, a genre he associates with 'prescriptions and proscriptions'. It is, rather, 'a style guide by stealth', 'a love letter to the sentence'. It offers us bracing – and often sententious – sentences ... He also tells us what not to like. He eloquently laments the rise and rise of 'the argot of modern managerialism', with its 'nouny sentences' As an academic, he feelingly deplores the bad habits of academic prose, with its conjunctive adverbs ('Moreover ...' , 'However ... ') and its twitchy meta-comment ('I will argue that ...'). Yet he equally knows that less is not always best. In a brisk chapter...he unpicks the doctrinaire plainness of Ernest Gowers and George Orwell. He even advocates the expressive subtlety of the subjunctive. Moran is a thoroughly sane, thoughtful commentator. It took me a long time to find something to disagree with in his book...
First You Write a Sentence is an often impassioned attempt to get us to take sentences seriously ... Sentences are everywhere, formed without much attention and used without much thought, but Moran wants to encourage an alertness to their construction.
Some of the book’s most compelling sections seem indeed to be about this very thing: not about nouns and verbs, or monosyllables and vowel sounds, but about care. Moran is advocating attentiveness, deliberateness, absorbedness, slow and studied craft, pushing against ‘the glib articulacy of a distracted age’ ... There’s plenty in Moran’s book to delight grammar and language nerds, too, of course. He argues eloquently for fresh metaphors, and for monosyllables ... He rhapsodises on the pleasures of a long sentence expertly unspooled.
Joe Moran is a wonderfully sharp writer, calm, precise and quietly comical ... He also happens to be Professor of English and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University, and so a veteran of marking essays and dissertations, and of ploughing through works by his fellow academics. He drops hints that this new book is a reaction to the solemn ethos of obscurity that prevails in academia ... he writes with a playful clarity that makes First You Write A Sentence a joy to read ... Moran’s own sentences are perfect advertisements for the aims they espouse. He uses a wide, unsnobbish range of cultural references, from high to low ... Moran’s own sentences are so stylish that many writers may well feel not so much encouraged as intimidated. After reading this maestro’s manual, I’m sorry to say I found the act of writing that much harder, a bit like trying to dance on soft clay in wellington boots.
In this elegant and winding book-length love letter, English lecturer Moran professes his undying adoration for the structural atom of literature: the sentence ... The book is expansive, diving into myriad topics related to sentence composition and efficacy, and Moran’s infatuation endures through it all. Writers and linguists have much to gain from Moran’s manic and probing research, but it’s Moran’s enthusiasm for the vitality of language that will engage any and all readers.
Less style guide than extended meditation on the sentence as written communication’s basic building block, this is a heartfelt but sometimes overwrought affair ... [Moran] makes persuasive arguments for the virtues of succinct, plain writing and for a more ornate style without definitively favoring either ... His own florid style, however, often gets in the way, and he falters when not directly addressing style points ... Anyone who has waxed poetic about good writing will enjoy parts of Moran’s book, but tolerance for the complete package will depend on the individual reader
A dense yet splendid 'style guide by stealth' that reads like a two-semester course in English composition distilled into a two-week treatise ... A sultan of syntax, [Moran] wants to show rather than teach, and he generally succeeds ... At times, the author will make even experienced writers feel inept, especially in his discussions of arcane grammatical terms. Still, his tone is comradely, not chiding. Oddly, one point Moran does not address is the element of talent. Everyone's writing can be improved, but all the technique in the world won't make a mediocre talent an exceptional one. Moran writes fluidly and elegantly, offering practical advice on giving one's writing texture and verve.