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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March 13, 2013

Maintain one voice in a sentence.


This specifically refers to the use of active and passive voice. In brief, this tip means use either the active or the passive voice in a sentence, not both. Consider this sentence.

“I wrote the weekly project status report, but it wasn’t delivered on time.”

This sentence begins in the active voice but concludes in the passive voice. By using only one voice, the sentence will be more direct and more effective for accomplishing your purpose. Two possible revisions are as follows.

“I wrote the weekly project status report, but I didn’t deliver it on time.” (active)
“The weekly project status report was written but not delivered on time.” (passive)

Determine which voice will best accomplish your purpose and use it for the entire sentence.


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 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.

July 3, 2012

Move adverbial phrases to vary sentence structure.


Based on many previous tips, you know that using the Subject–Verb–Object sentence structure helps you write clearly. However, you don’t want all your sentences to “feel” the same to the reader. Readers need variety, or they will quickly become disinterested in your content.

One of the simplest ways to vary the sentence structure is by moving adverbial phrases. Where you move the phrases depends on your style. However, many can be moved to the beginning of the sentence, which also may help you keep the S–V–O structure intact. Consider this sentence:

“He walked in the afternoon to the store.”

The adverbial phrase is “in the afternoon.” This phrase describes when he walked. We can move this phrase as follows:

“In the afternoon, he walked to the store.”

This sentence now has a different sentence structure. It also keeps the S–V–O sentence structure intact and focuses on the main point.


This is the strategy for day 176 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.


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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