Writing Advice

Updated: August 2, 2021 - Status: in progress

Writing well is important whatever your job is. This is a growing collection of writing advice I’ve collected from various sources.

The primary sources are:

Composition

If you could remember only one word of advice from Elements of Style, then it should be to “omit needless words.” Even in a sentence that sounds well-written, lots of words can be removed without any loss. This only makes the writing more clear and forcible.

Using the active voice often leads to stronger and more forcible writing.

There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.When there are two consecutive examples, the first one is bad and the second on is good.

Dead leaves covered the ground.

Similarly, put the statements in positive form to make more definite and clear statements. This also decreases the number of unneeded words.

He was not very often on time.

He usually came late.

In general, try to avoid vague, general expressions as much as possible. Be definite.

A period of unfavorable weather set in.Was it cold? Rainy? Unfavorable for whom?

It rained every day for a week.

Quoting directly from Elements of Style:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

The question as to whether Whether

He is a man who He

You can repeat the same form to describe similar ideas. Trying to constantly change the form has no value.

Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now the laboratory method is employed.

Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory method.

Keeping the related words together leads to simpler and clearer writing.

There was a stir in the audience that suggested disapproval.Did the stir or the audience suggest disapproval?

A stir that suggested disapproval swept the audience.

Style

Revising and rewriting what you have written is not a signal of bad writing, but a necessary part of good writing.

It easy to lose track of how much you are writing and write more than necessary when using a computer, since the words flow effortlessly from your mind to the screen. Beware of this.

Usage / Grammar

When words such as when, where, who introduce a nonrestrictive clause that adds something rather than define, a comma is required. If the clause is restrictive, i.e. it limits the preceding noun, a comma is required to prevent ambiguity.

In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.Gives further information on the year 1769.

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.Defines a subset of people.

Who when the subject is acting, whom when the subject is being acted on.

Virgil Soames is the candidate who we think will win.

Virgil Soames is the candidate whom we hope to elect.

The word case(s) is often unnecessary.

In many cases, the rooms lacked air conditioning.

Many of the rooms lacked air conditioning.

Than should be used carefully to avoid ambiguity.

I live closer to you than my father.

I live closer to you, than to my father.