300 Days of Better Writing

April 17, 2014

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.”

Here’s the problem. According to this sentence, multiple people are sharing one head. This is a number agreement problem: plural people, single head. Here’s another, slightly more complicated, example.

“When the audience members hold a candle in their hand, the entire room lights up.”

Again, we are writing about multiple people, who cannot share one hand, so we need “hands.” This gives us the following:

“When the audience members hold a candle in their hands, the entire room lights up.”

However, this may imply that each person is using two hands to hold the candle, which may not be true. Perhaps each person only uses one hand to hold the candle. By solving the agreement problem, we have changed the meaning. (This example also seems to imply that all the audience members together are holding only one candle, which is another number agreement problem.)

Here’s my recommendation. Either make the body parts plural, as in the first example, or revise the sentence to avoid the problem. The second example can be revised several ways, but two possibilities are as follows.


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April 9, 2014

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. Our advice is simple: the first time you use an acronym, write out the full name first and add the acronym in parentheses.
Do this for every acronym, even if you think most readers will know what it means because some might not. You only need to do this the first time you use the acronym. After that, you can freely use the acronym without risking losing your readers. Here’s how to do this:
“The Association for Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP) was founded in 1958. The AARP provides . . . .”


This is the strategy for day 156 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

March 7, 2014

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.

HUPAs can be created in many ways. When you start a sentence with attention getting words such as now and thus, you are using a HUPA. Any kind of inflammatory word, i.e., a word used to provoke a strong reaction, is a HUPA. Strings of short sentences are often HUPAs. Most rhetorical devices are HUPAs. Whenever you think to yourself, “That will get their attention,” you have probably created a HUPA.

Now for the tip, in 5 parts

  1. HUPAs are fine—and sometimes necessary. However, if you find yourself using HUPAs frequently, revise. Using too many HUPAs has a negative effect on readers.
  2. If you are trying to make everything seem like the most important information, then nothing will be the most important. All the information will be equally important.
  3. Using too many HUPAs indicates that the information isn’t interesting by itself and requires some strategy to make it seem interesting.
  4. Using too many HUPAs makes reading the text a tiring activity. You are simply “hitting” the reader too many times, which creates subconscious mental stress on the reader.
  5. An astute reader will realize that you are using strategies to artificially elevate the importance of the contents. This makes you seem amateurish and shifts the reader’s attention from the content to you.

Use HUPAs only when absolutely necessary.


This is the strategy for day 127 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

February 25, 2014

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.

These employees are

  • smart,
  • knowledgeable,
  • friendly, and
  • efficient.

If you were to write this out as a sentence, you would have the following: “These employees are smart, knowledgeable, friendly, and efficient.”

When creating a list, you use the same punctuation.

In the sample above, notice

  • the commas after each item,
  • where the “and” goes, and
  • the lack of a colon after “are.”

When the items in the list are complex (i.e., they have their own commas), you can use a semicolon after each list item. Also, you can capitalize each item in the list, but you don’t need to do so because the items would not be capitalized if you were to write this out in sentence format.


This is the strategy for day 7 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

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