|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
May 20, 2013
What do you do if you are not confident about your ideas? You may still want to write it, but you don’t want to be accused of misleading your reader if the idea is proven wrong. The most common reason for hedging, after all, is fear that you will lose credibility and, frankly, look dumb.
Here’s what you do: Shift the source of the idea to a third party, i.e., give credit for the idea to someone else. Here’s an example.
Hedging: “I think tomorrow will be a warm day.”
[Risky approach; weak writing]
Confident: “Tomorrow will be a warm day.”
[Also risky; strong writing]
Shifted: “The weatherman said that tomorrow will be a warm day.”
[Not risky; shifted source; strong writing]
If the idea is proven wrong, you are not to blame, and you won’t lose credibility with your reader. And you won’t look dumb.
May 16, 2013
Concise writing promotes reader understanding. It also helps keep the reader interested in what you are writing. Many of these tips discuss strategies for writing concisely and removing unnecessary words. This tip provides another strategy for concise writing.
Writers use these phrases to introduce a description. Consider this sentence.
“The office manager who is greeting new employees is well liked.”
Here, the phrase “who is” is being used to introduce the descriptive phrase “greeting new employees.” “Who is” can be removed without changing the meaning or damaging the clarity of the sentence, so it should be removed. This gives us
“The office manager greeting new employees is well liked.”
The reader will still know which office manager is being described. Here’s another example.
“The boys who are in the hallway are standing in front of the door that is open.”
We can apply this tip to change “The boys who are in the hallway” to “The boys in the hallway.”
However, we might not want change “the door that is open.” This phrase implies that multiple doors are in the hallway but that only one is open. In this case, the phrase “that is” is necessary for clarifying where the boys are. On the other hand, if only one door is in the hallway, we can apply this tip, resulting in “the open door.”
May 7, 2013
We like to say that apostrophes are PC. We don’t mean that they’re politically correct. Rather, we mean that they’re used for possessives and contractions. For contractions, the apostrophe replaces any missing letters. For example:
The apostrophe in they’re replaces the missing “a” in they are.
The apostrophe in you’re replaces the missing “a” in you are.
The apostrophe in isn’t replaces the missing “o” in is not.
The apostrophe in it’s replaces the missing “i” in it is.
We are surprised when we see the apostrophe in the wrong place or more apostrophes than necessary. If a letter isn’t missing, then no apostrophe is needed in that place.
One last note: The apostrophe always points or curves to the left, even when at the beginning of the word. Your word processor may automatically reverse the direction, so be careful with this.
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May 2, 2013
If you write a long paragraph (more than 4 or 5 sentences), how do you keep focused on the topic? How do you keep the reader aware of the main idea being discussed?
You do this with topic chains. A topic chain is basically a series of words and phrases that refer to the main idea. In most cases when you use a topic chain, each sentence will have one or more words that refer to the idea. If this is not possible with a particular sentence, you may need to consider whether or not that sentence belongs in the paragraph. Consider this paragraph from a proposal for state authorization to provide after school services to at-risk children.
The term disabilities comprises many conditions that may inhibit student learning. Often, students with disabilities require specialized instructional strategies to reduce the degree to which these inhibitors affect learning. Students with special needs require a highly-qualified teacher with training and experience in addressing such needs. As part of the tutor selection process, [the company] identifies those teachers possessing these unique skills, resulting in the ability to match students with special needs with teachers possessing appropriate teaching skills. Teachers will use strategies that allow for differentiated pacing with careful sequencing, monitoring, and control of the learning process.
The underlined words create the topic chain. As you can see, each sentence contains words that refer to the topic introduced in the first sentence. These words keep the reader focused on the topic.