Writing Tips

The tips on this page will help you to improve your writing, but will not make you into Shakespeare. For one, they are very basic tips. And for two, the content of your writing matters just as much as your style. Let's say someone gives you a free car: an old station wagon that smells like the previous owner's wet dog. You can take the old station wagon and spray it with pine-scented air freshener, and then you will have a car that smells like wet dog and pine-scented air freshener. Or, you can take out the floor mats and wash them, air out the car, and clean the upholstery, and have a car that doesn't stink. Similarly, if your writing lacks well-organized ideas and coherent arguments, you can use these tips to try to freshen up your bad writing, or you can go to the source of the problem and rethink your ideas.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these pages are no substitute for a good book about writing. There is a lot to say on the subject, and it is nice to have a book on hand that you can consult when you are not sure about some aspect of your writing.

Write Descriptively (a.k.a. Show, Don't Tell)

Avoid using undesciptive language, especially "to be" verbs. This will make your writing more interesting to read, will convey more information in the same space, and will help you to avoid using the passive voice unnecessarily.

Be careful when you're talking about "this". Is it clear what "this" you are referring to? If not, be more descriptive.

Adjectives and adverbs are powerful tools, but they are not all created equal. Instead of saying something is simply "good", describe how and why it is good. You will find that you no longer need to tell the reader that it is good, since you will have shown it.

Use Varied Sentence Structure

Remember how when you were in second grade you wrote book reports that sounded like this: "I liked this book. It is about a boy and his dog. I liked the dog a lot. It was a black dog. Black is my favorite color."

Well, you're not in second grade anymore, so try to vary your sentence structure. Starting every sentence with a noun followed by a verb gets old fast. Similarly, if every sentence has only one clause your reader will be gone before teatime. Don't be afraid of conjunctions or punctuation like parenthesis, dashes, and semicolons.

In addition, try to connect your ideas in meaningful ways instead of just sticking them next to each other and putting "and" in the middle. Show causal, temporal and other relationships between ideas.

Avoid Filtering

Rather than saying "I think…" or "I believe…", be assertive with your writing. Don't say "maybe" or "probably" to water down your writing. Commit yourself to an idea or position rather than being wishy-washy.

Use the Spelling Checker…

…But keep in mind that it will not solve all your problems. I refer you to the classic poem on the subject.

Don't Be Like George Bush

Once again, I refer you to a poem — this time, one composed entirely of George W. Bush quotations.

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