The Writing Coach
for clearer writing
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Here’s that report you wanted on last year’s
Overused examples of “Journalese”
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 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
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
Hack and Frack
Hack: Heck no. That was just the cutting edge.
Next they launched an unprovoked attack on my
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Thirty-one area residents might cut a deal
on the charge that they lied to get U.S.backed home loans.
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
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.
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
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
10. Use single strong verbs
instead of several weak ones.
They made a decision = THEY DECIDED
He made a substitution = HE
They have the intention = THEY INTEND
She gave an exhibit = SHE EXHIBITED
11. Choose concrete over abstract
He manifested displeasure as he gained
access to his domicile.
He frowned as he fitted the key into his
12. Avoid vague qualifiers and
choose the precise word.
Precise descriptions …
Extremely important = CRUCIAL
Really angry = FURIOUS
Very unconcerned = INDIFFERENT
Rather angry = ANNOYED
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
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
Local government leaders want to make it
easier for Redford County residents to get
around without their cars.