The Writing Coach
Paula LaRoque

Fourteen tips
for clearer writing
1. Keep sentences short.
“It is perfectly possible to write clear but
idiotic statements, and we must note that
fact altho...
2. Keep to one idea per sentence.
Roberta Harvey, who in ten years brought
the city zoo from a small menagerie to a
sprawl...
Becomes …
Roberta Harvey, director of the city zoo,
resigned Friday. In ten years, Harvey
brought the zoo from a small men...
3. Avoid jargon and formula.
As per your request during our discussion
on the telephone last week, please find
attached th...
Overused examples of “Journalese”
Spawned
Spurred
Triggered
Targeted
Sky rocketing
Amid
In the wake of
Hack and Frack
Frack: How are things at your vacation facility?
Hack: We had wide-ranging weather all season.
One storm du...
Hack and Frack
Hack: It spurred a major shift in sleeping
arrangements, triggered sweeping changes in the
menu and fueled ...
Hack and Frack
Hack: Heck no. That was just the cutting edge.
Next they launched an unprovoked attack on my
housekeeper, 4...
Hack and Frack
Frack: Is the bottom line that there is a thin line
between a soft and a hard line?
Hack: So it seems in th...
4. Avoid having more than three
numbers in one sentence.
The ninth grade students did well on most of the
three-part test ...
5. Avoid more than three prepositional
phrases to a sentence.
Grover Wilkerson, one of three law
enforcement officers acqu...
6. Keep to subject-verb-object
sentences as much as possible.
Passive vs. active voice
The tiger bit the zookeeper. (activ...
Pair-Share Assignment
Individually, go through the passive voice
quiz. About five minutes.
As pairs, review your answers t...
7. Avoid backing into the sentence with
long, unnecessary dependent clauses.
Maintaining his characteristic cheerfulness
a...
Becomes …
CEO John Ashley, maintaining his
characteristic cheerfulness and saying that
the company did better than expecte...
8. Change long and difficult words
to short and simple ones.
Thirty-one metropolitan area residents
involved in litigation...
Becomes …
Thirty-one area residents might cut a deal
on the charge that they lied to get U.S.backed home loans.
Another example:
Diplomatic officials on Tuesday said that
they had intelligence information indicating
that Iraq had atte...
Becomes …
U.N. officials said Tuesday that Iraq lied
about how much nuclear stock it has, and a
U.N. team will search for ...
9. Cut deadwood and redundancy.
At the present time = NOW
In the immediate future = SOON
We would like for you to = PLEASE...
A few common redundancies …
Basic fundamentals = FUNDAMENTALS
Sum total = TOTAL
Joint partnership = PARTNERSHIP
Free gift ...
10. Use single strong verbs
instead of several weak ones.
They made a decision = THEY DECIDED
He made a substitution = HE
...
11. Choose concrete over abstract
terms.
He manifested displeasure as he gained
access to his domicile.
Becomes …
He frown...
12. Avoid vague qualifiers and
choose the precise word.
Very
Really
Somewhat
Quite
Truly
Extremely
Basically
Totally
Precise descriptions …
Extremely important = CRUCIAL
Really angry = FURIOUS
Very unconcerned = INDIFFERENT
Rather angry = ...
13. Try to communicate with
rather than impress the readers.
“Although many people recognize the allure
of it, I think it’...
14. Ask yourself how you would say it if you
were saying it, and use that graceful
conversational style for your writing, ...
Becomes …
Local government leaders want to make it
easier for Redford County residents to get
around without their cars.
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The writingcoach

  1. 1. The Writing Coach Paula LaRoque Fourteen tips for clearer writing
  2. 2. 1. Keep sentences short. “It is perfectly possible to write clear but idiotic statements, and we must note that fact although it isn’t our concern at the moment even if a companion benefit of clear writing is that it’s easier to spot errors of both form and logic if we don’t have to deal with long and dense passages and jargon-laden or difficult vocabulary.”
  3. 3. 2. Keep to one idea per sentence. Roberta Harvey, who in ten years brought the city zoo from a small menagerie to a sprawling natural habitat, has resigned as director and will be succeeded by James Ashworth, currently zoo curator at Bellville.
  4. 4. Becomes … Roberta Harvey, director of the city zoo, resigned Friday. In ten years, Harvey brought the zoo from a small menagerie to a sprawling natural habitat. She will be succeeded by James Ashworth, currently zoo curator at Bellville.
  5. 5. 3. Avoid jargon and formula. As per your request during our discussion on the telephone last week, please find attached the report on last year’s profits. Becomes … Here’s that report you wanted on last year’s profits.
  6. 6. Overused examples of “Journalese” Spawned Spurred Triggered Targeted Sky rocketing Amid In the wake of
  7. 7. Hack and Frack Frack: How are things at your vacation facility? Hack: We had wide-ranging weather all season. One storm dumped more than seven inches of rain on our vacation site spawning hurricane-force winds and golf-ball-sized hail. Plus an unprecedented number of uninvited visitors arrived amid the facility restoration Frack: My, that must have decimated your plans for restoring your vacation facility and sparked burgeoning confusion as well. Or was it sort of a defining moment?
  8. 8. Hack and Frack Hack: It spurred a major shift in sleeping arrangements, triggered sweeping changes in the menu and fueled a personal economic crush. Frack: What a chilling effect. How long were you beleaguered by this worst-case scenario? Hack: Well, The visitors left early actually but not before offending everyone including another guest from delegate-rich New York. He’s a close friend and a life-long politician who hails from New York City and has close ethnic ties. Frack: Did the visitors leave your strife-torn facility then?
  9. 9. Hack and Frack Hack: Heck no. That was just the cutting edge. Next they launched an unprovoked attack on my housekeeper, 45. Frack: Did a heated debate ensue. Did they hurl insults at each other? Hack: Too true. In fact, they unleashed a new round of difficulty and the whole matter escalated to what some call critical mass. Frack: Which side blinked finally? Hack: Well, in a surprise move our embattled housekeeper stepped down amid allegations of wrong-doing
  10. 10. Hack and Frack Frack: Is the bottom line that there is a thin line between a soft and a hard line? Hack: So it seems in the wake of the controversy there was a sharp decrease in the number of visitors to the summer facility. Frack: A sudden downturn, a free fall or a steep decline I guess. Looks like you won a stunning victory better than a staggering defeat any day. Hack: I’m cautiously optimistic but the same scenario can repeat itself all over again next year. Frack: De ja vu.
  11. 11. 4. Avoid having more than three numbers in one sentence. The ninth grade students did well on most of the three-part test with at least 85 percent of the students at more than two-thirds of the schools passing seven of the 28 test objectives. Student financial aid climbed 7.9 percent last year to a record $30.8 billion, with students receiving $15.1 billion in loans, and $791 million in workstudy earnings.
  12. 12. 5. Avoid more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence. Grover Wilkerson, one of three law enforcement officers acquitted in the shooting deaths of three youths in Graydon, stood by his pickup in the driveway of his home by the railroad tracks in Larsonville and slowly, in a voice void of emotion, said, “It feels good.”
  13. 13. 6. Keep to subject-verb-object sentences as much as possible. Passive vs. active voice The tiger bit the zookeeper. (active) The zookeeper was bitten by the tiger. (passive, actor identified) The zookeeper was bitten (passive, actor unidentified).
  14. 14. Pair-Share Assignment Individually, go through the passive voice quiz. About five minutes. As pairs, review your answers together. About five minutes. As a class, we’ll go over the answers. Turn in your quiz sheet at the end of class. Make sure your name is on it.
  15. 15. 7. Avoid backing into the sentence with long, unnecessary dependent clauses. Maintaining his characteristic cheerfulness and saying that the company did better than expected last year, company CEO John Ashley successfully fended off several challenges from the board of directors.
  16. 16. Becomes … CEO John Ashley, maintaining his characteristic cheerfulness and saying that the company did better than expected last year, successfully fended off challenges from the board of directors.
  17. 17. 8. Change long and difficult words to short and simple ones. Thirty-one metropolitan area residents involved in litigation accusing them of an alleged loan fraud against the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development might settle the case before it goes to trial, according to federal court documents.
  18. 18. Becomes … Thirty-one area residents might cut a deal on the charge that they lied to get U.S.backed home loans.
  19. 19. Another example: Diplomatic officials on Tuesday said that they had intelligence information indicating that Iraq had attempted to mislead United Nations investigators by understating its nuclear weapons program and the amount of weapons-grade nuclear material it now possesses.
  20. 20. Becomes … U.N. officials said Tuesday that Iraq lied about how much nuclear stock it has, and a U.N. team will search for nuclear sites in Iraq next week.
  21. 21. 9. Cut deadwood and redundancy. At the present time = NOW In the immediate future = SOON We would like for you to = PLEASE Succeed in making = MAKE During the course of = DURING Despite the fact that = ALTHOUGH We have the need for = NEED
  22. 22. A few common redundancies … Basic fundamentals = FUNDAMENTALS Sum total = TOTAL Joint partnership = PARTNERSHIP Free gift = GIFT New improvements = IMPROVEMENTS Consensus of opinion = CONSENSUS Past experience = EXPERIENCE
  23. 23. 10. Use single strong verbs instead of several weak ones. They made a decision = THEY DECIDED He made a substitution = HE SUBSTITUTED They have the intention = THEY INTEND She gave an exhibit = SHE EXHIBITED
  24. 24. 11. Choose concrete over abstract terms. He manifested displeasure as he gained access to his domicile. Becomes … He frowned as he fitted the key into his front door.
  25. 25. 12. Avoid vague qualifiers and choose the precise word. Very Really Somewhat Quite Truly Extremely Basically Totally
  26. 26. Precise descriptions … Extremely important = CRUCIAL Really angry = FURIOUS Very unconcerned = INDIFFERENT Rather angry = ANNOYED
  27. 27. 13. Try to communicate with rather than impress the readers. “Although many people recognize the allure of it, I think it’s very important to recognize that the sociological effects are only one component of an end result of some kind of want and addiction. For any such addiction, the user’s own expectations and attitudes, mind set, in conjunction with the social circumstances combine to produce the result.”
  28. 28. 14. Ask yourself how you would say it if you were saying it, and use that graceful conversational style for your writing, too. A major reassessment that could lead to big changes in Redford County’s public transportation system is beginning, prompted in part by a new anti-smog law that is boosting business’ demand for better service.
  29. 29. Becomes … Local government leaders want to make it easier for Redford County residents to get around without their cars.
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