Style: A 10 Minute Refresher Course
Good writing of all sorts — from writing content to pounding out the next Great American Novel — encompasses more than just good grammar and correct spelling. It incorporates that nebulous thing called “style.”
Has it been a few years since you took a writing class? Are you looking for some ways to brush the dust off your prose? Then take this ten-minute refresher course and inject a little zing back into your writing.
- Less is more – Some people feel that deep, intelligent thoughts scream out for long convoluted sentences. Actually, the opposite is true. Meaning can often be lost in the maze of commas and clauses that most long sentences require. Keep your sentences short and sweet. If a sentence can be separated into two distinct thoughts, by all means do so.
- Make it clear – Writers are artists at heart. Most of us want to create beautiful pictures with our carefully chosen words and phrases. But, we must keep in mind that the purpose of writing is to communicate. If you choose to use obscure words or convoluted phrasing, you run the risk of losing your audience in the process. Whenever possible, use clear, straightforward language.
- Stay out of the picture – Some people feel the need to insert themselves into their writing. Perhaps they feel it adds authority or even a sense of intimacy. Examples include “I feel …” or “In my opinion …” Actually, this is the literary equivalent of putting your thumb over the viewfinder when you’re taking a picture. That blurry, thumb-shaped shadow adds nothing to the photo — it only distracts. The same is true for self references. Your reader, after all, already knows you’re the writer and these are your opinions; your byline’s right there at the top of the page.
- Watch out for “was” – When you use any of the myriad forms of the verb “to be,” you’re treading into dicey water. The “to be” verbs sometimes — though not always — indicate passive phrasing, and the passive voice often drains the life from your writing. Consider this example: “One way to spruce up your home is to add flowers.” Now look at this one: “Adding flowers spruces up your home.” Which one has more sparkle?
- Keep your sentences plumb – This may seem overly fussy, but parallelism in writing matters. Without it, the sense of your sentences diminishes. Grammar Girl describes it as combining three or more “related elements in a series” with the wrong syntax. Phrases combined in a single sentence should have similar — or parallel — forms. Consider this sentence: “I went to the store, the post office, and picked up my daughter.” It just sounds awkward. Here’s the correct form: “I went to the store, the post office and my daughter’s school.” Sounds better, right? The forms of each element are the same, and our brains recognize that and tell us all is right with the world.
Kate C is a freelance writer and grammar Nazi. She lives in the desert but dreams of the mountains. She shares her home with her husband of 27 years and a fat, sassy Boston terrier named Tess.