1. Write tight! Don’t ramble.
Edit out any words, phrases, or sentences that don’t add to the basic focus of the chapter or section. That utterly fascinating fact that interrupted the forward momentum of the text can usually go in a side bar or pull-out (text) box.If you can’t seem to find another place on the page for those adorable words, cut and paste it into a new file marked “future writing.” Maybe the next article or book will be just where that “saved” morsel is needed!
2. Avoid overusing the “to be” verbs, i.e. is, was, were, are, am.
Circle the “to be” verbs in your manuscript, and replace two-thirds of them with more specific verbs or verb phrases.This presents a challenge for even the most seasoned writer. Many of us forge ahead writing the first draft, and wait until we edit to highlight and replace those pesky “to be” verbs, rather than edit as we go.Substituting a precise verb for the is/was/are words can be a time-consuming process that often benefits from the good services of Mr. Roget’s Thesaurus. But don’t settle for a vague, one-size-fits-all verb. They’re boring! Keep searching until you find the gem that enhances and clarifies your written text. It’s worth the effort.
3. Use specific, descriptive nouns.
Instead of book, use paperback, volume, tome, booklet, manual, or publication.One of the keys to keeping the reader’s attention is familiarity. Hershey bar elicits a stronger reader response than candy bar; Altoids® wins out over mints; and Tide® resonates far more than soap or detergent; Kleenex® or Puffs® draws a more personal connection than tissues. Remember to capitalize brand names.
4. Vary your sentence length.
Avoid long, complex sentences that the reader may have to read two or three times to get your point. Often simply tightening the writing serves the purpose. You can accomplish this by eliminating unnecessary words or replacing a phrase with a single, precise word. For example, instead of saying “the teenager seemed to be all arms and legs and was rather awkward,” write “the gawky teenager.” Or you can split the sentence into two shorter ones.
A really short, 1 or 2 word sentence, carries more power than a longer one!
5. Shorten overly long paragraphs.
A paragraph that runs on for half a page or more lacks energy and visual variety. It’s boring. Break the long ones into two or three separate paragraphs, adjusting the wording as needed.
6. Start each chapter with a “hook” to snag your reader’s interest.
Hooks take many forms, but as the word implies, they are all designed to pull the reader into the next paragraph. A question or a short, premise statement often works well, such as Where would we be without plastic? or A working outline makes the writing flow more smoothly. You can also use a tie-in to the previous chapter. With the process in mind, we can now proceed with … or Based on what we have just learned about (previous chapter’s information).
7. Close each chapter with a satisfying conclusion − or lead-in to the next chapter.
For example, “And that’s how to trim an oval widget!” or “After you’ve chosen a theme for your project, you’ll need to collect the materials.” Beware: many writers have a tendency to babble on after they’ve made their point. When in doubt, read over your closing paragraph and underline the concluding sentence. Chop everything after that!
8. Include an occasional quotation or statistic.
Such additions to your text add variety and depth to your words, as well as also wisdom from a known authority if the quotation authority on your topic. State the source of all your statistics.
9. Use – but don’t overuse – well-known slang or colloquial expressions.
In nonfiction as well as fiction, a light scattering of such colorful words will go a long way. Too much sounds trite.
10. Condense but don’t stretch the content.
Judicious condensing (tightening the writing) of a paragraph or sentence can be done in ways that keep the meaning clear and eliminate unnecessary words. However, stretching your content to fill more space always dilutes the message and looks like lazy writing. Your readers will catch on to “word fill” without any trouble.
11. Always ignore MSWord’s corrections except for spelling.
They are often dead wrong!
© Pen Central Communications 2006, rev. 2015