|Posts on this blog are taken directly from 300 Days of Better Writing. This practical handbook contains 300 easy-to-use strategies for great writing, organized to help you write better every day. They teach you the strategies we use when editing clients’ documents.
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March 5, 2010
November 21, 2013
Every complete sentence has a subject and predicate. We have used the term subject many times, but you may not be familiar with the term predicate. Basically, the predicate is the main verb in the sentence and everything that modifies or extends it. Consider this sentence.
“The man with the broken nose stumbled on the broken flagstone.”
The simple subject is “man,” and the entire subject of the sentence is “The man with the broken nose.” The main verb is “stumbled,” and the predicate is “stumbled on the broken flagstone.”
According to this tip, you should not place a comma between the subject and predicate. While this seems pretty obvious with the simple sentence above, I see many clients put a comma there when the subject is complicated. Consider this sentence.
“When the following morning finally arrived, the president of the bank that collapsed when the stock market tumbled was found dead.”
Here, the subject ends with “stock market tumbled,” and the predicate is “was found dead.” Due to the complexity of the subject, with its multiple phrases and clauses, some writers will put a comma after “tumbled.” Regardless of the sentence’s complexity, however, no comma is needed there.
November 12, 2013
Citing your sources means giving credit to published experts for ideas you are presenting.
This may seem counterintuitive. If you wish to be perceived as an expert in some topic, then the last thing you want to do is let your readers know that your information comes from someone else. Right? Actually, there are two possibilities here.
First, if you are not yet a recognized authority on the topic, your readers won’t consider you credible, which means your information will be received with suspicion. By citing your sources or citing writers who have made the same claims, you are telling your reader, “I’m not the only one saying this. See? These experts agree with me.” This raises your credibility and improves the possibility that your readers will accept what you write.
Second, if you are a recognized authority on the topic, your readers will likely believe what you tell them about that topic. By citing your sources, you are telling your reader, “I keep up-to-date on what is happening and on what other experts are doing, so I’m right when I tell you . . . .” This strengthens your credibility, and the reader will be less likely to dispute what you write.
November 4, 2013
Let me give you three quotes that are particularly appropriate here (one of which you have already seen).
1. It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. (C. J. Cherryh)
2. Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. (William Zinsser)
3. Rewriting is called revision in the literary and publishing trade because it springs from re-viewing, that is to say, looking at your copy again—and again and again. (Jacques Barzun)
After you write, put away your document. Leave it long enough so that you may see it without preconceptions and without remembering what you were thinking at the time. Then look at it again. Does it satisfy your purpose? Have you communicated clearly? Can you make it more concise without losing essential content? Are the ideas logically presented? Keep criticizing it, refining it, until it is as good as it can be. Then give it to others (perhaps your editor) to evaluate.
Here’s the primary point: Your first draft will need editing. The editing process is what will make your document an effective communication tool, regardless of the genre.
Here’s the secondary point: If others recommend (or make) changes, don’t be offended. First drafts will always need improvements.
October 21, 2013
The pyramid structure is familiar to journalists. It involves starting with broad information and proceeding to specific details. Good descriptions do the same. They start by providing a broad look at the thing described and proceed to detailed information. Here’s an example.
The library was empty of books. Shelf after shelf was covered only in dust. The reading carrels were missing the familiar stacks of books. The check-out desk was unmanned, and the book return cart held nothing but air.
As in this example, we start with a general picture of the thing we’re describing. This allows the reader to create a context for the details that will follow. We provide a framework that gives meaning to the details. As we move toward greater specificity, the reader can begin filling in details, and each new piece of information will make sense due to the broader description that precedes it.
The end result is that the entire description makes sense, each piece of information has value, and the reader understands and can picture what we are describing.
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