On Writing Well

The classic guide on writing…well.

Use simple words and sentences to communicate effectively. Aim for clarity and simplicity by using precise language.

Active voice is the easiest way to construct straightforward sentences.

Remove clutter from your writing. If a word doesn’t help a sentence, remove it. If a sentence doesn’t help a paragraph, remove it. If a paragraph doesn’t support the main point, remove it.

Aim to be understood. Avoid confusing your reader.

Be particularly precise when choosing the correct verb.

Think of eliminating clutter like cutting junk from your diet. Unnecessary words are junk words in writing.

Adverbs are one of the most common sources of clutter. Look for words that end in -ly — then find a more precise verb.

Adjectives can also be clutter. Use adjectives sparingly for impact. Interpretive adjectives and qualifiers should be avoided.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite your piece. The editing phase improves your writing and helps you simplify your ideas.

You should understand the topic you’re writing about. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it. Discard as much unnecessary information as possible.

Follow a logical sequence. Every sentence should build from the previous sentence.

Use signposts to guide readers through your logic. But don’t over-use them.

Be consistent with your tone, main idea, tense, and point of view.

Be more specific with your main idea than you think you need to be.

Write for yourself and people like you. Think of one ideal reader whose tastes are similar to yours.

Don’t be condescending. Pretend you’re writing to a friend. If you have an ideal reader, this isn’t difficult.

Avoid clichés. They’re over-used and make you sound like an amateur.

Your lede is your most important sentence. Spend as much time on it as you need. You need to hook your reader and identify with them immediately.

Vary your paragraph length to make your writing more visually appealing and engaging. Short, choppy paragraphs feel disjointed. Have medium and long paragraphs, too!

You can use other tools, like pull-quotes, bullet lists, numbered lists, and charts to make your writing look more appealing. Not mentioned in the book, but picked up from a course on writing.

To end a piece of writing, you can bring your story back to where it started and reference your main idea. Or end it with a surprise.

Other endings could include the main lesson, something poetic, an open ending, or an abrupt ending.

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