300 Days of Better Writing

April 5, 2013

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.

If you are attributing a quote to a book, use the present tense. Because the information is always present (i.e., always available right now), use present tense verbs, such as states, notes, claims, and describes. For example, you may write the following:

“The book Ten Habits of Unhappy People claims that the main reason for disappointment is a lack of communication.”

On the other hand, if you are attributing a quote to the author, use the past tense. Because the author wrote the information at a specific time in the past, use a past tense verb, such as stated, noted, claimed, described, and wrote. For example, you may write the following:

“James Patterson, author of Ten Habits of Unhappy People, wrote that the main reason for disappointment is a lack of communication.”


This is the strategy for day 41 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 5, 2013

Be prepared to work hard at your writing.


Easy reading is damned hard writing.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

(Please excuse the curse word. It may indicate Hawthorne’s frustration with the work necessary to produce good writing, or it may indicate the strength with which Hawthorne believes this.)

The point of this quote is that clear, easy-to-read writing is not easy to produce. Instead, it is the result of writing, analyzing what you write, and re-writing—perhaps many times.

When you write, you are attempting to communicate. The more work you put into writing, the better you will be able to communicate. Hard work by you leads to easy understanding by your reader.

People have told me, “Writing is so easy for you.” This isn’t true. I have practiced writing, studied writing, and analyzed what makes writing clear. The documents they read are the result of much work: writing, criticizing, and rewriting until they are “easy reading.” That’s what great writers aim for: not easy writing but easy reading.


This is the strategy for day 110 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 13, 2013

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. Second, they need to create a transition to the idea of the next paragraph.

This transition is created by using words and phrases relevant to the next idea or by specifically noting how the current idea relates to the next one. Let’s look at two examples.

NONFICTION EXAMPLE:

End of paragraph one: “Throughout the grades, teachers build this disposition by asking questions that help students find the mathematics in their experiences, and by encouraging students to persist with interesting but challenging problems.”

Beginning of paragraph two:Students who can successfully solve problems are able to apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies.”

[National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000]

The first paragraph discusses teaching strategies, and the second discusses types of problem-solving strategies. The transition is created by the underlined words at the end of the first paragraph, which relates to the idea described in the context of the second paragraph.

FICTION EXAMPLE:

Gloucester:
I hope they will not come upon us now.
King Henry:
We are in God’s hands, brother, not in theirs.
[Shakespeare, Henry V, act 3, scene 6]

Gloucester’s comment discusses actions by the enemy, using the word “they.” This reference to the enemy creates a subtle transition to the beginning of Henry’s speech, which starts with a reference to the enemy: “theirs.”


This is the strategy for day 90 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.

October 14, 2011

Transitions and transition words


Creating transitions between ideas can be tricky, but it is necessary. A smooth, coherent flow of ideas requires effective transitions. Here are two of eleven strategies from 300 Days of Better Writing to help you.

Day 163: Use transition words and phrases to switch topics.

You are writing about one idea, and now you want to write about a new idea. You could just switch from one to the other, but this may confuse the reader. This is a bad idea. The reader may exclaim, “Wait a minute. I thought I was reading about . . . Why am I now reading about . . . ?”

You can use transition words and phrases to answer this question and make the transition smoothly. These words and phrases inform the reader that you are changing topics. Some examples are below.

“In light of these ideas/concepts/facts, . . . .”
“This raises the idea that . . . .”
“Additionally, . . . .”
“Furthermore, . . . .”
“This brings us to the idea that . . . .”
“Having discussed . . . , we need to turn our attention to . . . .”
“Next, . . . .”

Day 172: Use transition words infrequently.

Day 163 discussed using transition words to inform your reader that you are switching topics. Although this is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes necessary), you should only use this technique sparingly.

In effective writing, you relate new topics to previous topics so that each new idea seems like a logical extension of the previous topic. When you begin writing about the new topic, your first task is to discuss how it relates to the previous topic. If you are switching to a new topic, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why do I need to write about this new topic at this time?
2. How does this new topic relate to the one I just discussed?
3. Will the reader be able to answer the first two questions?

Do this well, and the reader will know you are writing about a new topic and will understand why. You won’t need the transition words.


These two writing strategies are from  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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