Ten easy guidelines to better writing
To write! What a marvelous thing!” — Paul Léautaud
It’s a miracle that in the face of Netflix, video games, VR, 3-D, Spotify and on-demand everything that there are still readers. Readers! Those who are willing to give us their most valuable asset — their time. Let’s not abuse that goodwill, but reward that faith with clarity, concision and sound composition.
To paraphrase William Strunk of “The Elements of Style”: Today’s readers are drowning in a sea of bad, muddled prose. It’s every serious writer’s duty to throw readers a rope and pull them safely aboard.
Here are 10 tried and tested guidelines for clear, crisp composition that can be put to immediate use.
- In general, prefer the brief to the lengthy. Note: The Gettysburg Address was 272 words.
- Prefer short sentences and short first paragraphs.
- Use the active voice: He scored 27 points last night. Not: Twenty-seven points were scored by him.
- Omit needless words.
- Prefer “said” to other dialog tags. A tag needs to identify a speaker or source and prevent reader confusion … and that’s it. Said is generally the least distracting verb to the reader and usually correct. Let the quote do the talking.
- Don’t suspend a sentence. Or: Keep the subject close to the verb. Don’t force the reader to reunite subject and verb for you. An entire post could be spent on this point.
- Make an effort to put statements in positive form.
- Be precise. Don’t write “earth” when you mean “dirt.” (Raymond Carver)
- Avoid cliché and be specific … just who exactly are those “powers that be?”