300 Days of Better Writing

February 18, 2014

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.

“The gun was under her pillow.”

In this sentence, the prepositional phrase is “under her pillow.”

When a writer begins to string phrases together, he makes the writing difficult to understand and tedious to read. Consider this sentence.

“The gun was under her pillow on the bed in the room at the back of the house in a small carrying case.”

This sentence has 6 prepositional phrases in a row! Every time a writer starts a new prepositional phrase, the reader needs to revise his mental picture of where the gun is.

Here’s our recommendation: If you have 3 or more prepositional phrases in a string, examine the sentence carefully. Find a way to revise the sentence so this doesn’t occur, or break the sentence into smaller sentences.

Using this tip, we can revise the sample sentence this way.

“The gun was in a small carrying case under her pillow. By keeping it at the back of the house . . . .”

Each sentence now has only 2 prepositional phrases. The second sentence leads to further information, thus keeping the content moving forward, as opposed to simply providing a static description. [We also removed “in a room.” If something is in a house, it must be in a room, so that phrase is unnecessary.]

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February 11, 2014

Write and rewrite until you communicate clearly.


Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure . . . it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.

(Robert Schuller)

When I write a new article for publication, for posting on our blogs, or for inclusion in our training manual, I have someone else read it. Here’s the typical scenario.

I give the article to my marketing specialist. She points to a particular paragraph and says, “This doesn’t make sense to me.” We talk about it, and I rewrite it. I give it to her again, and she says, “Ok, I get it now, but it’s still too complicated. Can you make it simpler?” So I do it again.

In the draft article, I am trying to communicate certain ideas, but I’m failing. The words are all there, and they make sense to me, but I am not communicating. I keep re-working the article until I can clearly communicate those ideas.

This back-and-forth process we use is a necessary part of the writing process. I could say, “Ok, I give up. I’m tired of re-working this piece. I can’t do it. Just publish it like it is.” Then, and only then, will I be a failure. But when I stay with the process, I will succeed with my goal: communication.


This is the strategy for day 140 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 7, 2014

From Bad to Good-Technical and Academic Writing


Academic and technical writing are far different than literary writing, such as novels and poetry. The primary purpose of academic and technical writing is to provide information about a defined topic to a specific audience. Whether you write graduate papers, professional journal articles, dissertations, white papers, manuals, websites, reviews, or similar documents, you are writing academic or technical documents.

Academic and technical writing can be bad writing. They can be complicated, tedious, and confusing. They can be terribly boring. Unfortunately, bad academic and technical writing is common (which makes bad writers nearly indistinguishable from their crowd of peers).

Why do people write badly? Possibly, they think the writing is supposed to be dull and confusing, or perhaps they think it sounds more professional. Maybe they have read a lot of poor writing, so when they review their writing, it sounds “right.”

On the other hand, academic and technical writing can be good writing. They can be clear and straightforward, logical, persuasive, and useful. They can be wonderfully interesting. Unfortunately, good writing is uncommon (which makes good writers stand out from their peers).  (more…)

February 4, 2014

Repeat “to” when using infinitives in a complex series.

Filed under: WritingExcellence — preciseedit @ 1:40 pm
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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.

In a series, one word will often refer to all the items in the series. Consider this sentence:

“She has beautiful hair, eyes, and teeth.”

The word “beautiful” refers to all the items in the series. When people write a series of verb infinitives, they will often write to only one time. Consider this sentence.

“The rare African moth is known to drink blood from recently dead animals, follow herds of elephants for miles, often for months at a time, in both rainy and dry seasons, and make noises with its wings, which resemble the rattle of a snake, to frighten away potential competitors.”

This sentence is unclear. Readers will have a hard time finding the beginning of each item in the series because the items are complex (they have commas). By using this tip, the sentence is much clearer:

“The rare African moth is known to drink blood from recently dead animals, to follow herds of elephants for miles, often for months at a time, in both rainy and dry seasons, and to make noises with its wings, which resemble the rattle of a snake, to frighten away potential competitors.”


Free E-book to Improve Your Writing Skills

Top writing strategies and expert instruction from
each of Precise Edit’s writing guides

  • 1 critical article from
    Precise Edit Training Manual
  • 8 days of instruction from
    300 Days of Better Writing
  • 5 top strategies from
    Bang! Writing with Impact
  • 2 essential word choices from Which Word Do I Use?
  • 1 major comma use from Zen Comma
  • 1 section on main verbs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing

Get the free e-book (PDF) OR

Purchase the Kindle

version ($0.99).

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