Guide to 300 Days of Better Writing Blog
This blog contains content from our writing guide 300 Days of Better Writing. Each day contains a strategy to help you write correctly, purposefully, and clearly. Strategies are accompanied by 150 to 250 words of instruction and samples. A little learning every day leads to major improvements over time.
300 Days of Better Writing is available in both PDF and Kindle versions.
This blog contains strategies on the following topics:
The content below consists of the first few lines of each post. Click on the post titles to read the entire post.
Strategies for concise writing
Write and rewrite until you communicate clearly.
Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure . . . it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.
Major Writing Process-Editing
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)
Use the pyramid structure to provide descriptions.
The pyramid structure is familiar to journalists. It involves starting with broad information and proceeding to specific details. Good descriptions do the same.
Remove what is/what are phrases.
We already know that to be verbs weaken writing. Examples of to be verbs are is, am, was, and are. These words are also problematic when combined with what to make what is and what are phrases.
Joining sentences for clarity and brevity.
Let’s say you have two short sentences or one average-length sentence with a short sentence that provides additional information. To prevent your document from sounding too choppy or repetitive, you can combine the two sentences into one. One way to do this is to create an introductory clause or phrase from the additional information. Consider these sentences.
- “Our grant writing consultant expressed his belief that the proposal will be funded.”
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Strategies for making an impact
Use HUPAs sparingly.
HUPA is an acronym for “Hey, You! Pay Attention.” HUPA is our term for any phrase, word, or strategy that is specifically intended to grab the reader’s attention.
Lead the reader to your conclusion.
In classical argumentation, you build a case for some idea. You present facts, theories, and assumptions.
When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully.
Shift the source of questionable information to maintain credibility.
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.
Use negative/positive restatement for emphasis.
Positive/negative restatement means describing what something is, then describing what it isn’t—or vice versa. When you do this, you strongly emphasize the final description. Let’s look at some examples.
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Provide credible references for new or controversial information.
Unless you are a recognized expert about a topic, your reader will have no reason to believe what you write. For example, I could tell you, “You shouldn’t eat eggplant. It’s bad for you.” You will ask, rightly, “What makes you an expert on eggplant?”
Common knowledge does not need a reference.
Although we recommend providing references for new or controversial information, we do not recommend providing references for common or widely accepted knowledge.
People don’t share body parts.
Writers can create strange visual images if they forget this simple rule. Consider this sentence.
“When people get a good idea in their head, they should act on it.”
Spell out your acronyms.
Acronyms are great. They allow you to repeat titles, names, and concepts easily. The problem is that your reader may not know what they mean, and this hurts communication.
Break up strings of prepositional phrases.
A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition (e.g., of, on, under, around) and ends with the object of a preposition. Consider this sentence.
|Writing instruction that respects you:
No fluff, no useless padding just to make it “look like a book”
Antecedents and pronouns must agree in number.
Most people know what pronouns are: he, she, it, we, him, her, them, they, etc. The antecedent is the word to which the pronoun refers. Consider these sentences.
“I gave Mary her box of treasures. It was small.”
This is easier to demonstrate than explain in technical terms. Consider this sentence:
“I am taller than she/her.”
“Each person must write their own autobiography.”
Do you see the problem here? “Each” refers to one person, but “their” refers to more than one person.
Use object pronouns as objects, not subject pronouns.
When you need a pronoun for an object, use an object pronoun. Your choices are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom.
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Interject and isolate statements for impact.
One way to emphasize a point is to interject it into a sentence and isolate it with punctuation. Consider this sentence.
Use one apostrophe-S for each thing or group of things to show ownership.
Most people are familiar with using an apostrophe-S to show possession. Consider this sentence.
“Bob’s dog is old.”
In this sentence, Bob owns or possesses the dog. Simple.
Use quotes around words to draw special attention or when using them in a new or ironic way.
When you are using a word in a new way or you want to create ironic emphasis, you can place the word in quotes. This is the same as using “air quotes” while speaking.
Punctuate bulleted series as if they were written out in a sentence.
For lists made from a series in a sentence, use this sample as a guide.
Don’t place a comma between the subject and predicate, part 1.
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.
|Works as a reference guide, too.
The topic index helps you find the answers you seek.
Achieving your purpose
Use concluding words to state your main point.
When you are writing a document to persuade your reader about an idea, you present your supporting ideas or evidence leading up to the main point. If you do this well, your reader will come to the same conclusion that you are trying to make.
Lead the reader to your conclusion.
In classical argumentation, you build a case for some idea. You present facts, theories, and assumptions. Then, you reveal the conclusion.
You identified your main and supporting ideas. You organized them logically. You know who your readers are, what they expect, and why they are reading your document. The next step is writing.
Know your secondary audience.
The immediate recipient of your document is your primary audience. Your secondary audience receives the document from the primary audience.
Use thesis statements to introduce topics.
A thesis statement is a sentence or two that informs the reader about the main issue, topic, or idea about which you will write. They are necessary for effective communication.
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Simplify three common, weak phrases.
Vigorous, direct, and persuasive writing is concise. Here are three common weak phrases and their concise replacements.
Maintain one voice in a sentence.
This specifically refers to the use of active and passive voice. In brief, this tip means use either the active or the passive voice in a sentence, not both. Consider this sentence.
Create transitions to the next paragraph.
The final sentences of a paragraph have two functions. First, they need to provide a conclusion, impact statement, or action statement relevant to the single idea of the paragraph.
Move adverbial phrases to vary sentence structure.
Based on many previous tips, you know that using the Subject–Verb–Object sentence structure helps you write clearly. However, you don’t want all your sentences to “feel” the same to the reader. Readers need variety, or they will quickly become disinterested in your content.
Using intro phrases for focus on the main idea
The most important information in the sentence should be placed at the end of the sentence. (See Day 5 for more about this.) However, some information requires additional explanation, which you may choose to place in the sentence, as opposed to providing it in the next sentence. This can create weak sentences.
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Document and content structure
Start paragraphs by establishing context.
Once you have determined the one idea for the paragraph, you need to write about that idea in a way that the reader will understand
1. what the idea is, and
2. how that idea connects to the document as a whole.
Use topic chains to create cohesive paragraphs.
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 are here: Signposts
Signposts are words that help the reader (and the writer) organize information. They are especially useful when you are providing a lot of information or information that is complicated. They tell the reader three things: here’s where we were, here’s where we are, and here’s where we are going.
Typical paragraph length
A paragraph discusses only one idea and has three basic components:
- context (why the paragraph is relevant and what it’s about),
- content (the discussion of the idea), and
- conclusion (impact/action and transition).
How many sentences in a paragraph?
How many sentences should a paragraph contain? Previously, we discussed one-sentence paragraphs and the 3 essential components in paragraphs (i.e., context, content, and conclusion). Other than the one-sentence paragraph, a paragraph generally contains 3 to 7 sentences. But this is only a general rule of thumb.
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Use “additive” words to show how a new idea connects to the topic.
You have just written an important idea. Now you want to make another point related to the same topic, and you want the reader to know that it is just as important as the previous idea.
Use the simplest correct words.
Using big words makes you seem smart. They make your reader think, “Wow, this writer really knows a lot!” Right? Probably not.
Remove unnecessary that is/are and who is/are phrases.
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.
Thus and therefore statements should follow logically from the previous statements.
The topic here is non sequiturs. Non sequitur is a Latin term meaning does not follow. A non sequitur is a problem with logic; it is a conclusion that isn’t logical, based on previous statements.
Repeat to when using infinitives in a complex series.
First, a quick note about infinitive forms of verbs. The infinitive form is the to version. One example of an infinitive is to run as in “I like to run.” Now, on to the tip.
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Subjects and verbs must agree in person.
Few writers would write “Bob love tuna sandwiches.” They would write “loves.” In the present tense, if the subject of a verb can be replaced by he, she, or it, the verb probably needs that final “s.”
Quote books in the present tense and writers in the past tense.
When you take a quote from a book, you have to decide whether you are attributing the quoted material to the author or the book.
Use the passive voice here
The active voice is preferable to the passive voice in nearly every case. In the active voice, the sentence structure is as follows: Grammatical/rhetorical subject + main/rhetorical action + object of the action, i.e., the power structure. This is good writing. The passive voice will use the object as the grammatical subject, which generally produces weak writing.
Replacing weak verbs with action verbs
First, let’s define our terms. An action verb represents an action that can be viewed or performed. A weak verb is, simply, the opposite of an action verb. Examples of action verbs include perform, hold, state, create, and represent. Examples of weak verbs include can, seem, exist, and feel [the emotional activity]. All to be verbs are weak verbs, especially when followed by an –ing verb.
Replacing adverbs with action verbs
Adverbs describing actions are often overused, particularly those adverbs that end in -ly. A writer will use one of these adverbs to explain how an action is performed. A reader, however, will form a mental image of the action, and then must revise that image based on the adverbs.
Are you convinced yet?
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