Writing, Writing Tips

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.

  1. In general, prefer the brief to the lengthy. Note: The Gettysburg Address was 272 words.
  2. Prefer short sentences and short first paragraphs.
  3. Use the active voice: He scored 27 points last night. Not: Twenty-seven points were scored by him.
  4. Omit needless words.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Make an effort to put statements in positive form.
  8. Be precise. Don’t write “earth” when you mean “dirt.” (Raymond Carver)
  9. Avoid cliché and be specific … just who exactly are those “powers that be?”
  10. Revise.