Words on a Page Writings about writing

Effectively presenting information, no matter what you're writing

A newspaper

This one comes under the banner of Getting back to basics …

For those of us who do it for a living, writing is a way of paying the bills. But writing is, first and foremost, a method of communication. It’s putting thoughts and ideas and opinions out in the wild. How you do that is as important as what you want to say. If you don’t do the job properly, you’ll quickly lose your audience and your efforts will have been wasted.

How do you do the job of writing properly? Here are a few thoughts.

Know your audience

This is fundamental advice, but it’s easy to ignore or forget. Who will be reading your work will influence how you present your information.

If you’re writing for general interest publications or for the web, you have a little more flexibility. You can be more conversational and take more liberties with your writing. Like what? Weave in pop culture references, jokey allusions, and play with the words more.

For business and academic audiences, you need to keep things a bit more formal. Formal, though, doesn’t mean stiff. You can make business and academic writing lively and interesting. Two of the keys to doing this are avoiding jargon and keeping things simple. Keep the fancy language and acronyms to a minimum. Don’t write long and convoluted and confusing sentences and paragraphs.

And that’s one of the complaints that I (and others) have about business and academic writing. Facts are piled upon facts. There are long, meandering passages which the writers could have cut down considerably. It’s not writing that’s friendly to the reader.

Learn the rules, then igore them

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling. These are some of the most important tools in a writer’s kit. Good writers know that they need to learn and internalize these rules. Once they do, they can violate those rules in interesting ways. Ways that can make their writing more interesting.

Don’t be afraid to start a sentence with but or and or or. Feel free to end a sentence with a preposition. Use sentence fragments when you can get away with them. Write in the way in which you’d speak to a friend or family member. Just leave out the ums, ahs, and any four letter words.

The only rules that I refuse to break are spelling rules. I get really annoyed when I see writers — usually online, though sometimes in print — replace the with teh or substitute a z for an s to denote a plural. That might be trendy, but it also looks and sounds amateurish.

Passive is the mind killer

I can think of very little that’s worse than passive writing. It has its place, but overusing the passive (or relying on it completely) makes your writing less dynamic. It’s boring. It’s lazy. It’s wordy.

Good writing, in any area, is active. It draws the reader in. Passive writing turns the reader away.

Use your allusion

I wrote a post about this several years ago. And that post pretty much says everything I want to say on the subject. A well-chosen allusion can not only make your writing more interesting, but it can get your readers to think.

One of the headings in this post is an allusion to line in a well-known novel. Do you know which one?

Tone and flow

No matter what your writing and for whom, you need to keep a steady and smooth tone. That tone should be like a nice speaking voice. Anyone remember the episode of Seinfeld in which George had to bone up on risk managmement? To do that, George got the audio version of a text on the subject. Much to his chagrin, this was being read in a flat monotone:

Chapter one. In order to manage risk we must first understand risk. How do you spot risk? How do you avoid risk and what makes it so risky?</blockquote>_

It’s not exactly what you want to read or hear. It’s definitely something you want to avoid.

Like tone, the flow of a piece of writing is important. You don’t want jerky, jumpy transitions between sections or paragraphs or even thoughts. You really want to try to get the kind of flow that you find in a good song.

Is that everything? Hardly. I’m sure you can come up with more ideas and examples. Feel free to do so.

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