Monday, December 31, 2012

Easy Rules for Improving Your Writing

Never be afraid to stomp on something to death and start over. In fact, get in the habit of doing it.

Don't keep a long, awkward sentence in hopes of reworking it. There's no sense polishing a turd.

Write multiple variations of the same sentence. Choose the best one.

Sentences that begin with a gerund (an -ing verb). Start over. Let verbs be verbs, not nouns.

Sentences that start with "There is" or use a "There is . . . that" construction: Cremate at once.

Sentences that begin with a subsidiary clause (one that doesn't contain the subject of the sentence) followed by a comma: Toxic. Keep in a sealed lead box.

Sentences in which the subject is far removed from the predicate, or located near the end of the sentence: Junk. No cash value.

Sentences that begin with an adverb or adverbial clause, followed by a comma: Seldom the best thing to do.

Sentences with more than one subserviant clause: Puts a huge workload on the reader. Chunk it up. Write it as more than one sentence.

The use of possessive pronouns (such as whose) with inanimate objects: Amateurish. Don't say "The brands whose prices are going up will be announced each week." Say: "Price increases for brands will be announced weekly."

"Effective" or "effectively": Whenever you say something like "effective marketing" (or "writing effectively") ask yourself as opposed to what? Isn't the effectiveness of what you're proposing already implied? (It sure as heck better be.)

Eliminate phrases like "the fact that" or "based on the fact that" or "due to the fact that." They're never needed. Show causality with "because" or "due to." Better yet, make causation implicit in what you're saying.

Very is overused and thus weak, not strong. Rather than strengthening something with very, you're often weakening it. Try exceedingly, extraordinarily, astonishingly, etc.

Avoid weak modifiers like "somewhat," "rather," and "fairly." Make definitive statements.

Semicolons; avoid.

Ellipses . . . ditto.

Watch out for exclamation points!

And above all, don't not avoid double negatives.

Tomorrow's post is special: In it, you'll see how 850 words of clear, direct prose can result in a Nobel Prize. (Yes, a Nobel Prize.) Come back tomorrow to read the whole incredible story.