300 Days of Better Writing

June 5, 2014

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. Generally, you do this to indicate that the meaning you are communicating is different than the usual meaning of a word. Consider this sentence.

“He tried to be ‘friendly’ with the woman seated next to him at the opera.”

The quotes around “friendly” indicate that you are communicating something other than normal friendliness. (Perhaps he tried to put his arm around her while pretending to stretch.)


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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.

September 26, 2013

Simplify three common, weak phrases.


Vigorous, direct, and persuasive writing is concise. Here are three common weak phrases and their concise replacements.

in order toto
This is a simple replacement. The sentence “I will use my card in order to buy snacks” becomes “I will use my card to buy snacks.”

there is aa
This will likely require additional revision, but the result will be better. The sentence “I see that there is a dog on the couch” becomes “I see a dog on the couch.”

with/in regards toregards
This changes the verb to regards. The sentence “This letter is in regard to your delinquent account” becomes “This letter regards your delinquent account.”


This is the strategy for day 109 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.

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.

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