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25 tips for clearer writing

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25 tips for clearer writing

  1. 1. 25 Tips for Clearer Writing From “The Magic and Craft of Media Writing,” by Carl Sessions Stepp
  2. 2. 1. Stress substance over process. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>Expansion of the Water Reclamation Facility can be deferred at least 10 years, members of a citizens’ advisory committee concluded at a meeting Wednesday. </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>Local taxpayers will save millions because reduced development and increased conservation are cutting water demand, a study group reported Wednesday. </li></ul>
  4. 4. 2. Install the main message in the main subject and main verb of a sentence. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>The owner of a vacant property on Highway 41 plans to lease the building to one of several interested businessmen, with plans for an under-21 nightclub the leading candidate to fill the void. </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>An under-21 nightclub could open within weeks in a vacant building at Highway 41 and Third Avenue. </li></ul>
  6. 6. 3. Choose concrete words and images. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>Officials today will consider the city’s proposal for tackling increasing traffic problems in school zones. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>State senators will decide whether to slap $250 fines on drivers who speed through school zones, where cars have hit three children this year. </li></ul>
  7. 7. 4. Go easy on the numbers. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>The State Power Authority yesterday raised its pending $241 million rate increase request by an additional $16.2 million or about 30 cents a month per consumer, to a total of 11 percent, saying that a 17 percent increase in fuel costs could produce third quarter losses of $194 million. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>The State Power Authority yesterday raised its rate increase request to 11 percent, blaming rising fuel costs. If granted, the hike would cost the typical customer $96 a year. </li></ul>
  9. 9. 5. Shorten sentences. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>Mayor Marquita Romano told City Council members Friday that her recent remarks about “crazy overspending” and “out-of-control giveaways” were not an attempt to intimidate the council, but rather were an effort to concentrate public attention on the importance of this week’s budget hearings. </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>Mayor Marquita Romano denied Friday that she meant to intimidate the City Council with her recent remarks about “crazy overspending” and “out-of-control giveaways.” </li></ul><ul><li>Instead, she told council members, she was trying to focus public attention on the importance of this week’s budget hearings. </li></ul>
  11. 11. 6. Limit the number of verbs per sentence. <ul><li>TOO MUCH </li></ul><ul><li>Judge Adam Robinson ruled Monday that a local man who refused to stop mowing his lawn even after neighbors complained he was disturbing a pool party did not violate city noise ordinances. </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>CLEARER </li></ul><ul><li>A local man didn’t violate the law by mowing his lawn during a neighbor’s pool party, Judge Adam Robinson ruled Monday. </li></ul>
  13. 13. 7. Keep subjects close to their verbs. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>A new pill, approved by the federal government after seven years of testing and costing about $10 per treatment, could reduce baldness by half, scientists said yesterday. </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>A new $10 pill could reduce baldness by half, scientists said yesterday. It has been approved by the federal government after seven years of testing. </li></ul>
  15. 15. 8. Limit the number of clauses and prepositional phrases per sentence. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>Smith said he decided to leave at this time because he believes the election of the next president “is critical to the future of this nation” and that it was important to make a commitment to the candidate at an early stage. </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>Smith said he decided to leave now because the next election is critical and he wanted to commit early. </li></ul>
  17. 17. 9. Avoid multiple layers of modifiers. <ul><li>TOO MUCH </li></ul><ul><li>No prison employee has contracted the human immunodeficiency virus as a result of a job-related incident, according to Lucille C. Rangers, the author of a series of reports on Aids, done for the National Institute of Justice, a division of the US Justice Department. </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>No prison employee has contracted the human immunodeficiency virus as a result of a job-related incident, according to Lucille C. Rangers, the author of a series of reports on Aids. The National Institute of Justice, a division of the US Justice Department, sponsored the studies. </li></ul>
  19. 19. 10. Avoid stacked modifiers. <ul><li>TOO MUCH </li></ul><ul><li>The towering, 18-story, 47,000-square-foot, $27.4 million, crosswalk-connected bank will dominate the city’s skyline. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>The 18-story bank will dominate the city’s skyline. The $27 million tower will have 47,000 square feet and connect by crosswalk to nearby buildings. </li></ul>
  20. 20. 11. Use active voice to stress the main actor or action. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>The loss of power and phone service in more than 50,000 homes was caused when lines across the region were blown down by winds. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>More than 50,000 homes lost power and phone service when winds blew down lines across the region. </li></ul>
  22. 22. 12. Use passive voice to spotlight the recipient of action. <ul><li>WEAK </li></ul><ul><li>Electors chose George Washington as the first president of the United States. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>George Washington was elected the first president of the United States. </li></ul>
  23. 23. 13. Limit to be verbs. <ul><li>WEAK </li></ul><ul><li>The new program will be of special benefit to the elderly, who are now less likely to use public transportation. </li></ul><ul><li>STRONGER </li></ul><ul><li>The new program will especially benefit the elderly, who ride public transportation less than younger people do. </li></ul>
  24. 24. 14. Zap weak verb constructions. <ul><li>WEAK </li></ul><ul><li>Police Chief Martin Garcia held a press conference Thursday to announce the firing of his top deputy. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>Police Chief Martin Garcia fired his top deputy Thursday. </li></ul>
  25. 25. 15. Root out nominalizations. <ul><li>CLOUDY </li></ul><ul><li>The judges have reached an official determination as to the winners of this year’s local music awards. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>The judges have determined the winners of this year’s local music awards. </li></ul>
  26. 26. 16. Cut down on jargon. <ul><li>CLOUDY </li></ul><ul><li>Police said Jones was treated for contusions and abrasions suffered during an altercation preceding his apprehension. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>Jones was treated for bruises and scrapes suffered during a fight with police. </li></ul>
  27. 27. 17. Purge tag-along words. <ul><li>PADDED </li></ul><ul><li>The school board has proposed more counseling activity by teachers to combat low enrolment problems. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>The school board has proposed more counseling by teachers to combat low enrolment. </li></ul>
  28. 28. 18. Curtail cliches. <ul><li>WEAK </li></ul><ul><li>The governor today appointed a blue ribbon commission to consider a full range of options for dealing with whopping increases in the state’s budget. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>CLEARER </li></ul><ul><li>The governor today appealed to three business executive and two consumers for ideas on reducing state spending, which has risen 12 percent this year. </li></ul>
  30. 30. 19. Banish euphemisms. <ul><li>CLOUDY </li></ul><ul><li>Mathers admitted in the interview that he got too physical with his four-year-old son. </li></ul><ul><li>SPECIFIC </li></ul><ul><li>Mathers admitted in the interview that he beat his four-year-old son with a leather belt. </li></ul>
  31. 31. 20. Clarify ordinary words used in overgeneralized ways. <ul><li>CLOUDY </li></ul><ul><li>The tornado touched down in a well-to-do neighborhood, injuring several people and moderately damaging a corner shopping center. </li></ul><ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>The tornado touched down in a gated neighborhood of $500,000 homes, injuring at least nine people and ripping the roof off a corner jewelry store. </li></ul>
  32. 32. 21. Provide direction before detail. <ul><li>CONFUSING </li></ul><ul><li>The House rules committee, in an emergency meeting May 3, passed by voice vote a rule calling for a floor vote on a concurrent resolution that would scrap provisions in the transportation budget bill that allegedly discriminates against smaller counties. </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>CLEARER </li></ul><ul><li>The House rules committee gave a victory yesterday to those who oppose a transportation bill they say hurts smaller counties. In an emergency meeting, the committee passed a special rule requiring a floor vote on the issue. </li></ul>
  34. 34. 22. Establish a thought before modifying it. <ul><li>VAGUE </li></ul><ul><li>Despite state laws and court decisions that seem to invalidate unannounced sweep searches on school property, a state court has refused to throw out evidence obtained when officers searched a teacher’s car in the high school parking lot. </li></ul>
  35. 35. <ul><li>BETTER </li></ul><ul><li>A state court will let prosecutors introduce evidence obtained from a teacher’s car, despite laws and earlier decisions that seem to prohibit unannounced searches on school property. </li></ul>
  36. 36. <ul><li>Use nut graphs. </li></ul><ul><li>The nut graph is used when the lead is anecdotal or indirect. If the lead begins with a desert scene, the nut graph describes the significance of the scene: it was an important atomic test site in the 1950s. </li></ul>23. Slow down.
  37. 37. <ul><li>If the lead begins with the description of a funeral, the nut graph offers the basic news value: the dead person is the first woman killed in an underground mine accident. </li></ul><ul><li>The technique gets its name because the graph contains the &quot;nut&quot; or &quot;hard center&quot; of the story. </li></ul><ul><li>- Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry </li></ul>
  38. 38. <ul><li>EVERY Monday at the Palace of Justice, around 3 p.m., a group of people sits around a long rectangular table to hold a raffle. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s a different numbers game, although it comes with the same kind of roulette one sees on a noontime television show. </li></ul><ul><li>Only trial court judges may join this high-stakes game. But the “winners” don’t get cash or brand-new cars. They get a thick stack of papers representing either a civil or criminal case. </li></ul><ul><li>Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. is a mainstay at the wheel. And, for the first two quarters this year, he raffled off 2,379 cases to the 22 Cebu City courts within his jurisdiction. </li></ul>
  39. 39. 24. Think ahead. <ul><li>CLOUDY </li></ul><ul><li>Mayor O’Leary said that her proposal should eventually provide local citizens with “a tax decrease of some magnitude.” </li></ul><ul><li>CLEARER </li></ul><ul><li>Mayor O’Leary said that her proposal would cut local taxes by two percent this year and three percent next year. The City Council will vote on the proposal on March 15. </li></ul>
  40. 40. 25. Use comparisons. <ul><li>A good example: </li></ul><ul><li>Ambika Narula weighed just 11.3 ounces when she was born five months ago. She was 11 weeks premature, slightly bigger than a Snickers candy bar and three ounces lighter than a normal daily edition of the Washington Post. </li></ul>

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