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3 Tips for Instantly Improving Your Writing

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Alternative title: What my 8th grade English teacher taught me

I don’t really consider myself a writer (unless you define a writer as Thomas Mann does, which is to say “a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”), but the fact that I’m capable of stringing a couple of sentences together at all has resulted in all sorts of opportunities. (In fact, it was the strength of my cover letter alone that landed me my current job, believe it or not.)

You’ll find lots of web sites with uninsightful advice like “write about what you know” or “read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style,” which are good tips but won’t help you turn horrible writing into not-quite-as-bad writing. If you’re looking to turn your already-good writing into brilliant writing, this post isn’t for you. And if you don’t know basic grammar or habitually neglect to check your spelling, there aren’t any tips that will help you until you master those very basics. Sorry.

So here are my surefire tips that anyone can employ to immediate effect to achieve not-quite-so-bad writing. Ready? Drum roll please…

  1. Try not to start sentences with the articles “the,” “a” or “an,” or the pronoun “I.” Really, really try.
  2. Don’t start two consecutive sentences with the same word, or any two paragraphs with the same word.
  3. Read your writing out loud one paragraph at a time and rewrite anything that uses the same meter over and over. Da-dun da-dun da-dun. Da-dun da-dun da-dun. I’m go-nna fall a-sleep. Varying the length of your sentences is the easiest way to ensure the meter varies also.

Before you say, “poppycock, I can show you plenty of examples of brilliant writing that don’t follow these rules,” understand that writing conventions are meant to be broken… but only by those who’ve already mastered them.


Comments (4)

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Comment by Jim S.

Made Friday, 6 of July , 2007 at 11:39 am

Can you recommend a book for improving writing?

Comment by Fabian T.

Made Sunday, 8 of July , 2007 at 1:47 am

It depends on what you need. “English Grammar for Dummies” by Geradine Woods has served me well.
I still find it unclear whether to use a “-” (dash)between two words, e.g., “auto-configurable” or without the “-“, e.g., “autoconfigurable”, “selfconfigurable” when writing technical documents.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 11 of July , 2007 at 10:18 am

Welcome back Jim. I’m not sure it’s possible to learn how to become a good writer from an instructional book, but The Elements of Style is probably the standard. Your local public library will have several copies.

I also think writing classes can be quite useful as they provide specific and non-critical feedback.

Good luck.

Comment by Jim S.

Made Thursday, 12 of July , 2007 at 6:52 pm

Thank you for the information.

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