My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Elementary Principles of Composition, #2

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Omit needless words."
    • This requires you to be super-objective about your work and also requires a lot of patience. Take a step back and evaluate each word in your draft. Is it necessary? Does it aid in your meaning? Does it add to your description? If the answer is no, then delete it. Could the word be stronger? Is it generic or unhelpful? Then it needs to be changed. Keep your work concise and tight and your reader will be more inclined to keep reading.
  • "Avoid a succession of loose sentences."
    • If you look at a paragraph and there are a large amount of connectives (andbut, who, which, when, where, while), you have too many loose sentences. One or two keeps your writing from becoming too formal and choppy; more than that just makes you look inexperienced and unskilled.
  • "Express coordinate ideas in similar form."
    • Don't let your writing look undecided or timid. Allow yourself to repeat important words or phrases to connect similar ideas. A similar structure brings together ideas that are directly related and helps the reader connect them. Parallel structure indicates that the content of each sentence is a new but related idea. Variety is not always the spice of life.
  • "Keep related words together."
    • In your descriptions, some thoughts go together while some other ones are slightly less related. Be careful in constructing your sentences to ensure that the most directly connected thoughts, phrases, or words go together. This will keep your meaning clear instead of ambiguous and will eliminate any chance of confusion.
  • "In summaries, keep to one tense."
    • When recalling recent events or the plot of a story, it is easy to slip between present and past tense without even noticing it. Many writers fall in this trap and end up coming across as annoying and uncertain. Make sure that one of the read-throughs you do during proofreading focuses just on tense. Highlight any inconsistencies and fix them as soon as possible.
  • "Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end."
    • Have you ever read a sentence and realized that the main emphasis was placed in the middle, so by the end you had lost interest? It makes the rest of the words seem rather pointless and unnecessary. If you want to avoid this trap with your own writing, place the most important point at the end. It is the one that readers will remember, because it is the last thing to cross their minds, and it keeps the interest on everything you have to say instead of trailing off.

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