Ever thought about why we put adjectives where we do? This creative post by Analytical Grammar explains it graphically. Now we know!
by Barbara McNichol
Do you habitually start a sentence with the phrase “start to” or “begin to”? In a 5,000-word document I recently edited, those phrases appeared 14 times, while only five were deemed necessary to the meaning. That’s a lot of extra words!
To be more direct in your writing, skip the “start/begin” part and employ the phrase Nike made famous: Just do it!
These examples show how you can write a stronger statement by going straight to the action verb rather than “beginning” to go for it.
Example 1: Slowly begin to approach your teammate with your idea.
Better: Slowly approach your teammate with your idea.
Example 2: Start to make an agenda for the meeting.
Better: Make an agenda for the meeting.
Whenever you write “start to” or “begin to,” question it. Ask: Is “start” or “begin” essential to the meaning of the sentence? Chances are you can glide straight to the action verb without it!
Similarly, watch out for “decide to” in your writing. Which verb carries more weight in this example sentence, “decide” or “launch”?
Example: The president decided to launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Better: The president will launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Do you see how “decide” doesn’t add meaning while “launch” is vital to the message? When you catch yourself writing “decide,” ask: Is it needed?
Your goal is clearer, stronger writing so your readers clearly understand what you mean. Pay attention to these phrases and streamline them. It will make a big difference.
What similar verb phrases belong in this category? List them here. I will discuss them in future posts.
Barbara McNichol has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. You’ll improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox including Word Trippers of the Week. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
by Chris Stern (reprinted from SSA newsletter)
Mark Twain was considered one of the greatest American writers of his time. He was often asked about the craft of writing and gave quite a bit of advice about putting words on paper. Here are a few of my favorites.
Which of these are your favorites, either from a “funny” or a “serious” point of view?
by Harvey Stanbrough (used with permission)
This is gonna sound WAY oversimplified, especially given the nineteen PAGES of comma rules in the HarBrace College Handbook.
But it’s true. If you use these five rules, you can’t go wrong:
1. Never put a comma between a subject and its verb or between a verb and its object.
Also you must realize that a subject may be compound, as in “John and Ray went to the store and bought a television and a radio.”
In the example, “John and Ray” is the subject. “Went and bought” is the verb. “A television and a radio” is the object.
Of course, you can also add to the size of the subject, verb or object and you can detract from the size of the subject verb or object.
2. When a subordinate clause introduces an independent clause, separate the two with a comma.
If you aren’t sure about clauses, Rule #2 is an example of itself, as is this explanation.
A clause has a subject and a verb but doesn’t stand alone, meaning it doesn’t make sense by itself. (A “phrase” is missing either a subject or a verb.)
In Rule 2, “clause” is the subject and “introduces” is the verb, but “when” keeps the clause from making sense by itself. Therefore it is “subordinate.”
3. Do NOT use a comma to separate the clauses when a subordinate clause follows an independent clause.
In Rule #3, “Do not use a comma” is an independent clause and the remainder is a dependent clause. This rule, again, is an example of itself.
As an interesting side note, the subject in Rule 3 is the implied “you.” The verb is “use.”
4. Use a comma before the appropriate coordinating conjunction to join two related sentences.
The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember the acronym FANBOYS. My female students used to love that acronym. By the way, you very seldom need a comma AFTER a coordinating conjunction, although that is a bad habit that some folks have developed.
5. Trite as it sounds, when you are in doubt about whether to use a comma, leave it out.
Believe it or not, most comma problems arise from the insertion of misused commas, not from their omission.
That’s it! The five rules of comma use. And really, there are only three. The first one is necessary, numbers 2 and 3 are the same thing in reverse, and Rule 4 is necessary depending on how you want the sentence to flow.
And of course, the last one isn’t so much a rule as a warning.
Harvey Stanbrough adheres to Heinlein’s Rules and writes across all genres. He has written and published 20+ novels and novellas, 160+ short stories, and hundreds of poems. He has compiled 5 critically acclaimed poetry collections and 25 collections of short fiction. Sign up for his Daily Journal or his ProWriters Blog at HarveyStanbrough.com.
by Barbara McNichol
No matter what your written message—a sensitive email, a report, a proposal, even chapters in a book—you aim to make it easy for readers to understand. But how can you ensure what you actually write is what you intended?
Ignore this question at your peril. No matter how busy you are or how quickly you want to advance your projects, slow down. When you rush to action, you risk having to redo, revise, and explain. That doesn’t save you time!
What can you do improve the readability of your message as you write it? Turn the following five tips into strong habits:
Most important, always proofread your own message and, if possible, have a colleague check it, too. As you reread it, ask: “Is this exactly what I intended?” If not, rework it until you’re satisfied your message can be easily understood by others.
The benefit to you? You will save time in the long run.
What proofreading habits are most effective for you? Share them here.
by Patrice Rhoades-Baum
Have you heard the expression “murder your darlings”? It’s not a Halloween joke. It’s a century-old, highly respected writing tip.
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
Sometimes while writing, we create a sentence or paragraph that is particularly energetic. It flows! It sparkles! It may be brilliant!
But if that sentence or paragraph does not support your message, you need to kill it. You need to whip out your red pen or hit the delete key.
I believe every word, every sentence must support the message. “Murder your darlings” reminds us to be objective when writing and editing our content.
We are servants of the message we seek to communicate. We cannot fall in love with a passage that does not serve our message.
I’ve been writing professionally for 30+ years, and I know it’s tough to “murder your darlings.” My advice? Take a breath. Buck up. Do it.
The more you “murder your darlings,” the easier it becomes. Implement this writing tip to make your message clear. Your writing improves and everyone wins – except that “darling.”
Patrice Rhoades-Baum is a marketing consultant and branding expert. She guides solopreneurs – professional speakers, corporate consultants, and business coaches – to create a clear brand, strategic website, and polished one sheet brochure. Patrice has a 35-year marketing background: 25 years in high-tech corporate marketing + 10 years as a business owner. She specializes in branding for small businesses and writing strategic, hardworking one-sheet and website copy. She can be reached at www.patricerhoadesbaum.com
Share an example of when you “killed a darling” and didn’t have to stand trial for murder.
by Barbara McNichol
Does your writing come across as arrogant? Are you using pompous phrases? Take a moment to ask these questions!
With the spoken word, we have the privilege of adding voice intonation, hand gestures, and emotion with our vocal cords. That doesn’t happen as easily in writing. You might leave readers guessing about your intended meaning and risk setting a tone that can be misconstrued.
To avoid confusion, drop the following idioms and phrases from your writing altogether. Not only will you convey your thoughts more directly, but your writing will gain clarity.
Do These Written Phrases Suggest an Arrogant Tone?
Question using the following phrases in your own writing:
Which phrases would you add to this list? Share them in Comments.
One More: “In Other Words”
Another oh-too-common phrase to question is “in other words.” Why? Because it often introduces a clarifying sentence that follows a mediocre one. Instead of adding a sentence, go back and strengthen the first sentence. Then you might not even need a follow-up clarifying one. Test this idea in your own work.
Ultimately, you strive for clear, intentional expressions of your thoughts and beliefs in everything you write. Don’t let phrases such as these get in the way!
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“Keep your paragraphs short. Writing is visual—it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.” – William Zinsser, On Writing Well
This language expert gives excellent advice, but how does it translate to what you’re working on? I suggest this:
For nonfiction writing (including your emails), limit the length of your sentences to 21 words.
With more than 21 words, you risk readers backtracking to the beginning of the sentence to retain or refresh the meaning. Few will do this! They want to understand it quickly on the first read, not the second or third. Also keep your paragraphs short as Zinsser suggests. Because people mostly scan rather than read each word on-screen, they can do so faster when paragraphs are short. Don’t set up a tedious experience for your readers.
An editing app called Hemingway (www.hemingwayapp.com) helps accomplish this. It color-codes sentences based on ease of reading and indicates how to clarify them. When you use it as a learning tool, you’ll improve your writing just by following the suggestions.
Even if you don’t use this tool, pay attention. In my first draft of this article, I exceeded 21 words on four sentences. After doing a word count, I reworked them in ways that both Hemingway and Zinsser would approve.
Make that a habit for you, too!
What “Writing Well” tips do you have to share?
by Barbara McNichol What can editors tell writers and authors about improving their writing? Consider these five … Read more »