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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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.

November 12, 2013

Cite your sources to build credibility.


Citing your sources means giving credit to published experts for ideas you are presenting.

This may seem counterintuitive. If you wish to be perceived as an expert in some topic, then the last thing you want to do is let your readers know that your information comes from someone else. Right? Actually, there are two possibilities here.

First, if you are not yet a recognized authority on the topic, your readers won’t consider you credible, which means your information will be received with suspicion. By citing your sources or citing writers who have made the same claims, you are telling your reader, “I’m not the only one saying this. See? These experts agree with me.” This raises your credibility and improves the possibility that your readers will accept what you write.

Second, if you are a recognized authority on the topic, your readers will likely believe what you tell them about that topic. By citing your sources, you are telling your reader, “I keep up-to-date on what is happening and on what other experts are doing, so I’m right when I tell you . . . .” This strengthens your credibility, and the reader will be less likely to dispute what you write.


This is the strategy for day 74 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.

November 4, 2013

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)

2.       Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. (William Zinsser)

3.       Rewriting is called revision in the literary and publishing trade because it springs from re-viewing, that is to say, looking at your copy again—and again and again. (Jacques Barzun)

After you write, put away your document. Leave it long enough so that you may see it without preconceptions and without remembering what you were thinking at the time. Then look at it again. Does it satisfy your purpose? Have you communicated clearly? Can you make it more concise without losing essential content? Are the ideas logically presented? Keep criticizing it, refining it, until it is as good as it can be. Then give it to others (perhaps your editor) to evaluate.

Here’s the primary point: Your first draft will need editing. The editing process is what will make your document an effective communication tool, regardless of the genre.

Here’s the secondary point: If others recommend (or make) changes, don’t be offended. First drafts will always need improvements.


This is the strategy for day 103 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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