Writing Advice

Easy ways to dramatically improve your writing

Learn to use apostrophe’s

Its not hard to get them right and they show how careful your being. Even in the 2020’s, computers will not fix these errors for you. Besides, careful editing is it’s own reward. Everything here is wrong, as you have surely noted. Train your eye to focus on potential errors!

Avoid run-on sentences, they are very confusing

Commas and periods are not interchangeable, usually a slight rewording greatly improves clarity like “Avoid run-on sentences because they are very confusing.”

Think twice about starting sentences with “this” or “that”

This often makes it harder to follow your idea. This is often the result of stringing ideas together in a logical way as you’re drafting prose, but often you end up not talking about the same thing by the end. This also means it’s easy for the reader to lose track of what “this” really stands for.

That is usually easy to fix by replacing a leading “this” with a more concrete subject: Sentences that start with “this” or “that” make writing hard to follow because they get too abstract really quickly; use a concrete subject instead.

ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS ARE YOUR FRIEND

They help your writing flow and save you words.

  • CLUNKY: The dog was blue, and was ashamed of its color, so it kept running through the car wash.
  • SMOOTHER: The blue dog, ashamed of its color, repeatedly ran through the car wash.

  • CLUNKY: This article does not cite any research. The lack of research means it is difficult to understand if it should be trusted.
  • SMOOTHER: The article’s lack of research compromises its authority.

Note the clunky way is how we think and get ideas into words. The smoother way is what we get from revising and polishing rough written drafts of our ideas.

KEY ON FIRST SENTENCES

If you read just the first sentence (or maybe two) of your paragraphs one after the other, you should get a clear picture of the flow of your thinking and narrative. If you have sentences that aren’t clearly and logically moving from one topic to the next, figure out what your paragraph is about, and revise the first sentence to best summarize it. If your paragraph doesn’t clearly elaborate on the main idea you introduce in your first sentence, decide if the paragraph is really necessary. If so, revise it so it makes a clear and distinct point that fits into your narrative.

USE THE DELETE BUTTON

This was one of my greatest discoveries in writing. Often we write sentences as part of our thinking (remember they are inseparable) that get trapped in our prose. You might keep tinkering with them; you might move them around a bunch trying to find the right place for it. Sometimes you just can save yourself a lot of trouble by just deleting it, or if you’re worried about losing something useful, move it past the end of your essay so that it’s not in your way and you can still see it later if you want. It’s incredibly liberating!

Use passive constructions sparingly

Look for unnecessary is, was, be, or being verbs. See if you can be clearer by using a concrete subject.

  • Passive: It was not clear how the assignment would be graded.
  • Active: The assignment instructions did not clearly explain how grading would work.
  • Better: The hastily written assignment instructions provided only an unhelpfully ambiguous grading policy.

  • Passive: The king was getting impatient.
  • Active: The king grew impatient.

  • Passive: This class is boring.
  • Active: This class bores me.

In the last example, you might deliberately choose the passive construction if your point were that any objective observer would also declare that the class’s very existence should be characterized as boring. If you want to emphasize the agency of the class to bore students, particularly you, but it’s at least conceivable that other students might not find it boring, the active construction would be more precise.

Another way of thinking about it is that the passive voice describes a state of being (how the class is), which is pretty generic and vague. But sometimes that’s what you want. The active voice emphasizes a subject and action (what the class does).

All I’m saying is that you should choose deliberately.