by Vicki Meade

    1. Know your audience. Who is your reader? As you plan and write,
      picture a person who represents the audience your piece aims to reach.
      This helps you keep in mind the audience’s interests, knowledge, and
    2. Determine your purpose. Why are you writing the piece? What
      do you hope to accomplish? What main message or impression do you
      want your reader to carry away? Figuring this out helps you create
      a clear “main idea” and select the right tone and approach. Common
      purposes are to inform, entertain, instruct, motivate readers to action,
      or persuade.
    3. Narrow your topic. Subjects like “school” or “love” or “computers”
      are too broad. Pick an aspect that is well-defined and focused, such
      as how Google has changed the way college students do their schoolwork,
      the trouble with finding love on the Internet, or ways to protect your
      PC from viruses.
    4. Start in an interesting way. Even if your introduction is
      only one or two sentences, make sure it catches the reader’s attention
      with precise language and an engaging style.
    5. Get to the point quickly. By the first or second paragraph,
      what the piece is about should be clear. Warm-up material that goes
      on too long irritates readers and strains their interest. After you
      write your introduction, go back and edit it down.
    6. Have your facts in hand. Make sure that facts important to
      your piece are easily accessible (e.g., written on note cards or flagged
      in reference books) so you can find and insert them without wasting
      time or losing your train of thought.
    7. Involve your readers. Present experiences to which others
      can relate. Tell stories or give examples that make your points real
      and tangible. Thrust readers onto the scene, tap into their emotions,
      and give them a sense of being there.
    8. Add color. “Color” means words and descriptions that help
      readers see, feel, hear, and smell what is going on. Color means vivid,
      lively language—words with texture that appeal to the senses and involve
      more than the reader’s intellect. Our brains tend to convert words
      and thoughts into pictures—so using images from the start is a powerful
      way to communicate.
    9. Write with conviction. The reader is looking to you for facts
      and ideas. Do not present them in a wishy-washy way. Avoid qualifiers
      such as probably, almost, rather, and somewhat, which make your writing
      sound weak and hesitant.
    10. Express, don‘t impress. Use a natural tone in your
      writing: don’t try to sound like someone you’re not. That doesn’t
      mean you should ignore the principles of good writing, including proper
      grammar and sentence structure. But avoid creating unnecessary work
      for the reader. For example, instead of your dentist asking, “Are you
      experiencing any difficulty?” it’s clearer if he asks, “Does it hurt?”
      Other examples:

      Wordy Phrase Condensed Phrase
      at this point in time now
      in the event that if
      in light of the fact that since
      be considered that is
      start off start
      on an annual basis yearly
      exhibits the ability to can
      for the purpose of for
      on the occasion of in the final analysis when finally
      it is obvious that obviously
      on an everyday basis routinely
      despite the fact that although
      in the proximity of near
      subsequent to later
    1. Never use a long word when a short word will do. For example,
      instead of “magnitude and configuration,” say “size and shape.” Sophisticated
      ideas can often be conveyed as effectively with short words as with
      long ones. Other examples:

      Long Short
      Ascertain Discover, find out
      Attempt Try
      Communicate Say, write, tell
      Facilitate Help, ease
      Implement Do
      Numerous Many
      Leverage Use, build on

    2. Prune excess words. Unnecessary words are clutter. They slow
      the reader and smother your message. Be ruthless in trimming extra
      words that take the punch out of your writing. A sentence is wordy
      if it can be tightened without losing meaning.
    3. Be concrete and specific. Details win out over generalities
      because they create vivid images and help the reader relate. Which
      of the following gives you a clearer picture? “The convention was
      well attended” or “Eight hundred people packed the Antiques Dealers
      Convention, filling all the seats in the auditorium.”
    4. Use strong verbs. Vague, imprecise verbs have less power than
      strong verbs that convey an action clearly. Instead of saying “he walked
      slowly into the room,” for example, you might say he strolled, ambled,
      shuffled, or tiptoed. This way, you convey how he walked without
      having to use an adjective or adverb. Compare “I ran quickly” with
      “I sprinted.” Which has more impact?
    5. Do not smother verbs. Sometimes excellent verbs are smothered
      in sentences because they are presented as nouns. For example, instead
      of “make a decision,” say “decide”; instead of “gave approval,” say
    6. Avoid clichés. Clichés are trite, overused expressions, such
      as “light as a feather” or “hit the nail on the head.” You bring more
      impact to your writing when you say things in a fresh, original way.
      Our brains tend to notice what’s new and tune out what we’ve seen or
      heard before. Whenever you are tempted to use a cliché, ask yourself
      if there is a more effective way to make your point.
    7. If you must use jargon, define it. Jargon is “inside talk”
      or specialized language used in certain professions or groups. Often,
      jargon is puffed-up language designed more to impress people than to
      inform them. The problem with jargon is that it excludes anyone who
      is not part of the group. If the audience is made up entirely of insiders,
      jargon has a purpose, but if your audience will be broader, define
      the jargon or include a glossary. Example of jargon by a scientist:
      “The biota exhibited a 100% mortality response.” Meaning: “The fish
    8. Use the active voice, which is more direct, emphatic, and vigorous
      than the passive voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence
      does the action: “George Washington chopped down the cherry tree.”
      In the passive voice, the subject receives the action: “The cherry
      tree was chopped down by George Washington.” Besides being boring,
      the passive voice can leave out important details. For example, if
      you say “Colorful flowers were seen along the highway,” the reader
      has no idea who saw the flowers.
    9. Wrap up your piece crisply. Use a sentence or short concluding
      paragraph that echoes the main idea without dully repeating it. An
      effective conclusion brings the reader full circle from your opening
      statement and ties up loose ends. Avoid endings that trail off or
      introduce entirely new ideas that were not addressed in your piece.
    10. Accept that good writing means rewriting. There’s no
      way around it—once you’ve carefully developed a first draft, you must
      revise, tighten, and polish more than once to have a top-notch piece.