11 Tips for Stronger Writing

Communicate to motivate!Table of ContentsThe Importance of Good WritingTIP #1: Be Active, Not PassiveTIP #2: Say What You Mean, Mean What You SayTIP #3: Don’t Be Verbose and Run On and On and Use More Words than You Really Need to Use to Get Your Point AcrossTIP #4: Skip the Big Words. Your Reader is Not ImpressedTIP #5: Shorter is Usually SweeterTIP #6: Structure Your Paragraphs LogicallyTIP #7: Are You Sure That’s the Right Word?TIP #8: Have a ConversationTIP #9: Say What?TIP #10: Avoid QualifiersTIP #11: Get Rid of Repetitive RedundanciesThe Importance of Good WritingDoes your job require you to write? Anything at all? If not, you don’t need this article. However, if you’re occasionally called on to write a letter to a customer, instructions for a subordinate, details on the operation of a process, a training manual, an annual report, an article for the company newsletter, or even an email to a co-worker, you’ll develop a reputation as a writer.Will that reputation be good or bad? Will people enjoy reading your work – or cringe when they get something from you? Most of the time, that will depend on your writing style. People like to read things that are easy to understand, are written in plain English, and follow a logical progression of thought. Misspelled words, grammatical errors, and poor sentence structure are all distracting to your message. This booklet is not intended to be a primer on spelling or grammar, but you can greatly improve your writing just by following 11 simple tips.TIP #1: Be Active, Not PassiveA common error is writing in the passive voice when active voice will sound better and make more sense. Active voice is usually preferred because it makes the sentence clearer and shorter.Instead of this: The man was bitten by the dog.Try this: The dog bit the man.Instead of this: A rude noise was made by the student, and the principal was called by the teacher.Try this: The student made a rude noise, and the teacher called the principal.TIP #2: Say What You Mean, Mean What You SayYour writing shouldn’t cause your reader to scratch his head and say, “Huh?”.Instead of this: If the Internal Revenue Service finds that an individual has received a payment to which the individual was not entitled, whether or not the payment was due to the individual’s fault or misrepresentation, and whether or not the payment was due to a miscalculation by the Service, or some other type of error, nevertheless, the individual shall be liable to repay to the Department of the Treasury, the total sum of the payment to which the individual was not entitled.Try this: If the IRS overpays you, regardless of the reason, you are required to return the amount of the overpayment.TIP #3: Don’t Be Verbose and Run On and On and Use More Words Than You Really Need to Use to Get Your Point AcrossSome writers seem to enjoy long sentences. The go for quantity rather than quality. In reality, it takes more talent to be concise.Instead of this: ABC Software, Inc. today announced its early adoption and planned use and support of Microsoft’s new Visual Studio for Applications (VSA) technology as a fundamental component of the platform on which ABC Software’s next-generation solutions will be built. ABC Software has a strong history of providing customers with solutions adaptable to unique business needs through award winning customization tools. VSA provides important capabilities that will enable ABC Software to take customization flexibility to more advanced levels in its next generation products.Try this: ABC Software is one of the first to adopt Microsoft’s new Visual Studio Applications (VSA) technology. ABC has a history of providing customization tools that are adaptable to a wide variety of business needs. Using VSA will enable ABC to create even more advanced versions of its software.TIP #4: Skip the Big Words. Your Reader is Not Impressed.Some writers believe that they’ll be more highly respected or appear to be smarter if they use big words. In reality, however, most people are put off by that. The writer appears to be a pompous show-off. Just say what you mean in plain English!Instead of this – Try this:additional – extraadvise – tellattempt – trycommence – startconsequently – soforward – sendindividual – man or womaninitial – firstin excess of – more thanin the event of – ifnumerous – manyon receipt – when we geton request – if you askparticulars – detailspersons – peopleprior to – beforeregarding – aboutreferred to as – calledsufficient – enoughterminate – endTIP #5: Shorter is Usually SweeterA good rule of thumb is to let each sentence accomplish just one thing. Too many ideas in one sentence make it confusing. Instead of stringing several ideas together, simply put each one into a separate, shorter sentence.Instead of this: The government and financial community in The Bahamas appreciates the need for companies to operate under the laws of a jurisdiction which minimizes taxation, reporting requirements and bureaucratic intervention while providing flexibility for operation in a liberal and concessionary environment.Try this: The government and banking community in The Bahamas recognizes that companies want to pay less taxes. Those same companies want to be free of onerous reporting requirements and bureaucratic interference. The Bahamas allows businesses to operate freely and will even provide concessions to attract them to the islands.TIP #6: Structure Your Paragraphs LogicallyIt’s very confusing to the reader if your thoughts jump back and forth instead of following a logical progression. From reading magazines and newspaper articles, most of your readers will expect you to start with a generality, and then continue with more detail and specific examples.You may do this without thinking when you are speaking. You pass a friend in the hall at work who asks what you did the night before. You stop and tell her that you went to a great new restaurant where the food and service were outstanding. You tell her the name of the place, where it’s located, and say, “You should check it out.” By that point in the conversation, it’s time to get back to work.Later, you go out to lunch with another friend, and spend an hour together. She asks you the same question and you start your answer exactly the same way. But since you have more time, and she is truly interested, you start giving her details. You mention who you were eating with, gossip about who else you saw there, list every item on the extensive dessert menu, and describe the ambience of the place in intricate detail.When you write something, your readers will be in a variety of locations and circumstances when they receive your communication. You want to be sure you write the most important messages at the beginning, and then go into more detail for those who have the time and interest.TIP #7: Are You Sure That’s the Right Word?Much has been written about how confusing the English language is for those who are trying to learn it for the first time. But writers know it can also be confusing for those who have spoken and written the language their entire life! Here are 55 sets of words that writers frequently confuse – and a quick review of their proper usage:Affect – to influence;Effect – resultAll ready – prepared;Already – at this timeAll right – satisfactory;Alright – incorrect usageAll together – a group;Altogether – completelyAllude – to refer to;Elude – to evadeAll Ways – by all means;Always – foreverAny way – by any method;Anyway – in any case;Anyways – incorrect usageAppraise – to estimate a value;Apprise – to tellAscent – upward movement;Assent – to agreeAssistance – help;Assistants – helpersBare – naked;Bear – carry;Bear – animalBeside – next to;Besides – alsoBorn – brought into existence;Borne – carriedBrake – stop;Break – shatterBuy – purchase;Bye – goodbye;By – next toCapital – the seat of government;Capitol – a building where a legislature meetsCompliment – praise;Complement – to enhance or completeConnote – to imply;Denote – to indicateContinual – occurs regularly;Continuous – never stopsCorrespondence – written communications;Correspondents – people who write the communicationsDesert – leave behind;Desert – an arid land;Dessert – after dinner courseDevice – invention;Devise – to inventDiscreet – prudent, circumspect;Discrete – separate, distinctDisinterested – unbiased;Uninterested – indifferentElicit – to bring out;Illicit – illegalExcept – other than;Accept – to receiveFair – average;Fair – beautiful;Fair – just;Fare – fee for transportationFarther – literal distance;Further – to a greater extentForward – toward the front;Foreword – introductory noteGorilla – a large primate;Guerrilla – non-conventional warfareHanged – past tense of hang (execution of a criminal);Hung – past tense of hang (as with a picture on the wall)Heard – past tense of “hear”;Herd – group of animalsIllusion – misperception;Allusion – indirect referenceIt’s – contraction of “it is”;Its – possessive of “it”Lead – to be out in front;Lead – heavy metal;Led – past tense of being out in frontLessen – to make less;Lesson – something learnedOverdo – to carry too far;Overdue – past duePassed – past tense of “pass”;Past – a time gone byPatience – forbearance;Patients – clients of a doctorPeace – absence of war;Piece – part of somethingPresence – being somewhere;Presents – giftsPrincipal – head of a school;Principal – holder of a high position in a business;Principal – sum of money that earns interest;Principle – a rule or standardRaise – to lift up;Raze – to tear downResidence – a house;Residents – people who live in a houseRespectfully – courteously;Respectively – in the order mentionedRight – correct;Rite – religious ceremonySight – something seen;Site – a place;Cite – quote an authoritySome time – a period of time;Sometime – at an unspecified point in timeStationary – not moving;Stationery – writing paperStraight – not bent;Strait – passageway through waterTenant – a renter;Tenet – strongly held beliefTheir – possessive of “they”;There – not here;They’re – contraction of “they” and “are”Waiver – give up a right;Waver – to be indecisiveWho’s – contraction of “who” and “is”;Whose – possessive of “who”Your – possessive of “you”;You’re – contraction of “you” and “are”TIP #8: Have a ConversationFor most things that you write, an informal tone is not only appropriate, but easier to read. Unless you’re writing a scholarly paper on some rare disease for your next medical convention, you should avoid the use of jargon.Don’t think of your readers first as engineers or bankers or lawyers or business executives or co-workers. Think of them first as people who have plenty to do and don’t want to labor over their reading.Good communication involves more than speaking and listening, or writing and reading. It involves clarity on the part of the writer, and understanding on the part of the reader. It involves an interaction between two or more human beings. Your writing should be as easy to read and understand as your conversation around the water cooler. And especially avoid whatever buzzwords, business jargon, and clichés are currently in vogue.Just imagine if people talked the way some of them write. You might get a voice mail like this:”Hey George, let’s think outside the box, examine our core competencies, interface with our strategic alliances, and see if we’re on the same page. I figure it’s a win-win and a no-brainer. We should just touch base, and then hit the ground running. I figure if we’re proactive, we’ll find some great synergy. Going forward, I think this will not only be an important value proposition, but may even be mission-critical. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that it needs to be tonight, because I’m out of pocket all weekend. At the end of the day, I think we’ll find we’ve missed some things that weren’t on our radar screen. Bottom line, it’s all about positioning. And remember we need to walk the walk. After all, there is no “I” in team and we need to go for result-driven empowerment. So keep me in the loop, okay?”Wouldn’t this jargon-free voice mail be easier to understand:?”Hey George. Let’s invite a couple of girls out for a date. It would have to be tonight because I’ll be gone for the weekend. We’ve been saying we have to get out more. It’ll be fun! Call me back when you get a chance, okay?”Remember to write more like you talk.TIP #9: Say What?Read what you’ve written out loud! Sometimes that will reveal problems that you don’t “hear” in your mind when you proof your own work. You may know precisely what you mean when you write the sentence, and still have it be totally misunderstood.Sometimes the problem comes from moving your subject and verb too far apart in the sentence.Instead of this: President Bush wrote his State of the Union address while traveling from Washington to Omaha on the back of a menu.Try this: President Bush wrote his State of the Union address on the back of a menu while traveling from Washington to Omaha.Instead of this: Dr. Smith has been writing a treatise on the history of diabetes research since the early 1900s.Try this: Dr. Smith has been writing a treatise. It discusses the history of diabetes since the early 1900s.TIP #10: Avoid QualifiersYour writing will typically be stronger if you avoid certain qualifiers. No, that’s not right. Your writing is stronger when you avoid certain qualifiers. Do you see the difference when the word “typically” is removed from the previous sentence?”Typically” is one of dozens of qualifiers that people use both in their writing and speaking. Other examples are “possibly”, “nearly”, “approximately”, “likely”, “sort of”, “maybe”, “try to”, “believed to be”, “should be”, “usually”, “most”, “sometimes”, “occasionally”, “I think”, “perhaps”, “roughly”, and “generally”.The use of too many qualifiers in your writing will make you sound unsure of yourself, or worse yet – evasive.Instead of this: The food was somewhat tasteless.Try this: The food was tasteless. or The food was bland.Instead of this: It was a fairly hot day.Try this: It was a hot day.TIP #11: Get rid of repetitive redundanciesA redundancy is unnecessarily using two or more words that mean the same thing – like repetitive redundancies. The second word is excessive and superfluous. Here are some examples of redundancies to avoid:o small in sizeo I thought to myselfo all-time recordo money-saving coupono join togethero merge togethero young childo unexpected surpriseo hollow tubeo academic scholaro past historyo honest trutho close proximityo previously recordedo mental telepathyo refer backo added bonuso bare nakedo consensus of opiniono hot water heatero it’s raining outsideo passing fado surrounded on all sideso unsolved mysteryo puppy dogThese few tips probably won’t win you a Pulitzer Prize or get you elected President, but hopefully you’ve learned enough to make your next writing assignment easier and more enjoyable…for you AND the reader!©2005, Daniel P. Stuenzi, All Rights Reserved