by Barbara McNichol
Suppose you’re composing a sensitive email, article, or letter—one that’s extremely important in your world. But the message must be as clear and concise as possible.
Ask these five writing questions and follow the examples. From there, make changes that will immediately improve your prose and ensure you’ve written what you meant to write.
- Have you put in filler words that don’t add meaning to your sentence? E.g., Starting a sentence with “there are” or “here is” or a variation. “Here are excellent points to consider” becomes “Consider these points.” More direct!
- Can you spot and eliminate extraneous phrases? Omit “the fact of the matter is…” or “it’s important to remember that…” or “it’s all about…” Like filler words, they take up space without adding meaning.
- Where can you use noun modifiers to be more concise? E.g., “Tips on writing” becomes “Writing tips” and “Details regarding the conference” becomes “conference details.”
- How can you streamline sentences without changing the meaning? Look for “who” and “which” phrases. E.g., “Dee, who is our new manager, just had surgery” becomes “Our new manager, Dee, just had surgery.” “Our report, which we finished, is on your desk” becomes “We put our finished report on your desk.” Bonus: It uses an active verb.
- How can you use commas sparingly but also when needed to clarify the meaning of your sentences? E.g., “You can overlook punctuation rules and people will have trouble reading your writing and your ideas will get lost.” Without a comma after rules, this can be misread to say: “You can overlook punctuation rules and people…” That’s why you need the comma after rules. Even clearer would be: “If you overlook punctuation rules, people will have trouble reading your words, and your ideas will get lost.”
What writing questions would you add to these five that would help hone your writing to perfection before saying, “I’m done”? Note them in the comments section.