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Writing Tips

 

This is a condensed list of some of the most important writing style rules. Everyone has their own preferred style and in some cases these rules can be broken, but in general they help enhance your writing by making it more clear, concise, or interesting.

  • Pay attention to grammar!
    English grammar is complicated and every single rule cannot be enumerated on this list; however, basic grammar is extremely important to style. Yes, some grammar rules can be broken to enhance an idea or create a powerful effect, but if all grammar is disregarded the writing becomes sloppy and unclear, the reader has a hard time interpreting the work, and the writer’s image is ruined. Make sure to look up basic grammar rules and correct your piece before publishing or showing to friends.
  • Use the active voice.
    The active voice involves the subject directly performing the verb. Though the passive voice can be useful, the active voice will make sentences shorter and stronger. Compare “He was remembered by us,” (passive) with “We remembered him.” (active) The second sentence is more direct and effective.
  • Use the positive form.
    Basically, avoid the word “not,” unless you are using it for denial or antithesis. Using not can make the sentence unclear or ineffective. Saying “He is not sad,” could mean he is every other emotion except sad. Say instead, “He is happy,” or “He is complacent.” (See how the two sentences portray completely different ideas, but they are both “not sad.”)
  • Choose specific words.
    Vague words like good, nice, things, very, really, and many others will crumble your writing into the ground. The reader cannot understand what you are saying unless it is specifically said. Compare “Sally was a nice girl,” with “Sally was generous; she enjoyed giving gifts to her friends.” The first describes Sally with a generic term that gives no clear picture of her, but the second describes exactly how she is nice.
  • Watch your syntax.
    Syntax is sentence structure. It can involve punctuation (commas, periods, dashes, etc), sentence length (short, medium, or long) or sentence construction (simple, complex, compound). How you form a sentence can immensely affect the reader. For example, if you write many consecutive simple sentences starting with the same subject, the reader could become bored (“John lived in Santa Clara. John loved cats. John lived in a nice house.”). There are infinite possibilities with the effects of syntax, so play around with a variety of structures. To illustrate the importance of syntax, compare how you read these three similar phrases:
                Stop now.
                Now stop.
                Stop. Now.
  • Avoid wordiness.
    This rule does not mean never write a lot of words, but never write a lot of pointless words to fill in space. Wordiness can make a sentence awkward, confusing, boring, or drawn-out. For example, “He does not really like to ride his bike much,” is weaker than “He hates riding his bike.” Use the least amount of words necessary to give your writing power.
  • Avoid clichés.
    An obvious rule, one that English teachers have repeated over and over again, yet it is still not followed! Be creative when writing; do not robotically repeat what everyone else says.
  • Be clear.
    Clarity is the most important aspect of writing because, as a form of communication, the reader should be able to understand the ideas. Even though you believe your ideas are clear, you have to make sure that your reader can understand them on paper as well. Do not disregard constructive criticism because you are too attached to your work to make changes. It is easy to believe that everyone shares the same perceptions and thus everyone should understand your writing, but that is simply untrue. Share your work with a friend or a teacher (one who will say more than just “it’s nice”) so you can revise your piece and perfect it until your ideas are clearly conveyed.

 

Some of the advice and examples included are from the book, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White and the article, “In Search of the Perfect Sentence” by Janet Tarasovic.