Improve Your Writing By Keeping These Simple Tips in Mind
While pursuing a graduate degree in journalism/public relations, I served as a graduate teaching assistant.
As a teaching assistant, the university provided me with a tuition-free education.
All I had to do was teach the lab portion of several basic journalism courses.
The department also paid me a stipend for my efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I also supplemented my income by teaching English and journalism in a state correctional institution.
I served as a part-time instructor for a local community college. It was contracted by the prison system to provide inmates with a variety of educational opportunities. I thoroughly enjoyed that, as well.
The coursework was pretty much interchangeable. So, I used the same journalism textbooks for both. Student-inmates were required to have successfully completed a series of basic English courses or have a high school diploma before enrolling in the journalism courses.
For the basic English courses, I used the college's standard textbooks. The courses introduced the student-inmates to expository writing. They were expected to have already learned the basics of grammar and punctuation.
However, like most instructors, I supplemented the texts with a few additional words of wisdom.
They took the form of tip-sheets.
I believe that one of the tip-sheets I handed out to all of my students remains helpful to everyone who wants to improve their writing.
The tips are universal.
There are 10 tips, of course, which seems to be the standard number required to do everything better. Why is that?
1) Keep sentences short
Tests show that reading tends to become harder when sentences average more than 20 words. Sentences in many national publications average 16-17 words. Average sentences in business writing often exceed 25 words.
2) Prefer the simple to the complex
This applies to sentence structure and the choice of words. For example, write "try to find out," rather than "endeavor to ascertain."
3) Prefer the familiar word
If readers don't understand the words you use, they're likely to miss your meaning. This does not suggest you should have a small vocabulary. You need all the words you can master.
4) Avoid unneccessary words
Nothing weakens writing more than words you don't need. Read your writing over closely. Make every word carry its weight.
5) Put action in your verbs
Active words put life into your writing. They can describe physical or mental action.
6) Write the way you talk
A conversational tone is one of the best avenues to readable writing. Don't lapse into a stuffy business jargon that has no relation to the way business people talk face-to-face.
7) Use terms your reader can picture
Be aware that abstract terms tend to make writing dull and stuffy. Prefer the short, concrete words that stand for things you can see and touch.
8) Make full use of variety
Don't smother your individual writing style. Develop a fresh form of expression that represents you. Avoid cliches.
9) Write to express, not impress
Don't show off with complexity. Make your ideas clear with simple, direct writing. The writer who actually makes the best impression is the one who can express complex ideas simply.
10) Make effective use of transitional words and phrases
The adept use of transitional words and phrases is a distinguishing mark of a good writer. Develop a logical movement of writing from one idea to the next, the pace and flow of the words. Use transitions as bridges from one thought and/or paragraph to the next.
If you continually apply these simple tips to your writing, you will eventually do it without even thinking about it.
It will become second nature. However, an occasional refresher never hurt anybody.
Raine Stern plays guitar in a local band named "Ne ...
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