Whether we're composing a blog or a business letter, an email or an essay, our goal should be to respond clearly and directly to the needs and interests of our readers. These ten tips should help us sharpen our writing whenever we set out to inform or persuade.
- Lead with your main idea.
As a general rule, state the main idea of a paragraph in the first sentence--the topic sentence. Don't keep your readers guessing.
See Practice in Composing Topic Sentences.
- Vary the length of your sentences.
In general, use short sentences to emphasize ideas. Use longer sentences to explain, define, or illustrate ideas.
See Sentence Variety.
- Put key words and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence.
Don't bury a main point in the middle of a long sentence. To emphasize key words, place them at the beginning or (better yet) at the end.
- Vary sentence types and structures.
Vary sentence types by including occasional questions and commands. Vary sentence structures by blending simple, compound, and complex sentences.
See Basic Sentence Structures.
- Use active verbs.
Don't overwork the passive voice or forms of the verb "to be." Instead, use dynamic verbs in the active voice.
See Writing Advice From Stephen King.
- Use specific nouns and verbs.
To convey your message clearly and keep your readers engaged, use concrete and specific words that show what you mean.
See Detail and Specificity.
- Cut the clutter.
When revising your work, eliminate unnecessary words.
See Practice in Cutting the Clutter.
- Read aloud when you revise.
When revising, you may hear problems (of tone, emphasis, word choice, and syntax) that you can't see. So listen up!
See The Advantages of Reading Aloud.
- Actively edit and proofread.
It's easy to overlook errors when merely looking over your work. So be on the lookout for common trouble spots when studying your final draft.
See Revision Checklist and Editing Checklist.
- Use a dictionary.
When proofreading, don't trust your spellchecker: it can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it's the right word.
See Commonly Confused Words and Fifteen Common Errors.
We'll close with a cautionary note borrowed from George Orwell's Rules for Writers: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."