1. Make a simple plan and follow it. Diving in without a plan may give you a rush of accomplishment. But eventually you will have to slog through the revision stage, forcing your words and ideas into a coherent package.
Decide from the start what you want the message to accomplish. Examples:
- This agenda will help team members prepare for a productive meeting.
- This flyer will motivate parents to attend the open house.
- This email will help the customer complete the necessary paperwork.
Once you know what you want to accomplish, list the questions your message must answer for your readers to achieve your goal. Then write the piece by answering your readers’ questions. Do not include information that your readers would not ask for. If you do, you will write too much and will spend too much time cutting and revising.
For instance, an agenda that helps people prepare for a meeting might answer these questions:
- What are the agenda items?
- Who is responsible for handling each agenda item?
- How much time will we spend on each item?
- What do we want to accomplish with each one: to agree? to decide? to assign?
- How should I prepare?
Too often writers focus on background information, when readers rarely want or need it.
2. Use the power of one. When you write, limit yourself to one: just one topic per paragraph, one idea per sentence. Focusing on just one thing at a time will help you avoid sprawling paragraphs and sentences that you have to rework later.
For example, in a flyer to motivate parents to attend an open house, the answer to each of these questions would be a separate, short chunk of text:
- What’s this about?
- When is the open house?
- Where is it?
- Why should I attend? How will it benefit my family?
- Who will be there?
- Will food be served?
- Do I need to let anyone know that I plan to attend?
- Where can I get more information?
Combining the answers to several questions in one chunk of text will tangle the message. And it will require more time to revise.
Similarly, a sentence with several interwoven ideas will take time to untangle:
This version, with one idea per sentence, is simple and clear:
Even better, this version helps the ideas stand out for quick action:
- Provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document.
- Fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application.
If you limit yourself to one idea per sentence (or bullet), you will write a clear version from the start. The time you spend rewriting will shrink.
3. Recognize that perfection is unattainable—and a waste of time. Unless you write essays, poetry, or other literary works, your audience will not read and savor your every word. Instead, they will skim the agenda, flyer, email, proposal, report, or other communication in search of the information they need. So why strive for perfection when clarity, conciseness, and courtesy are useful, achievable goals?
Avoid pointless revising:
- Don’t fuss over changing “interesting” to “notable” unless “notable” is more accurate.
- Don’t take time to change “Thanks” to “Thank you” unless your reader needs a more formal tone.
- Don’t struggle to eliminate “I am writing to” at the beginning of an email. Yes, your reader knows you are writing. But there is no harm in stating “I am writing to inform you of a change in your interview schedule.”
- Don’t strive to revise just because two sentences in a row begin with “I.” Those two “I”s will not distract your reader. (But starting every paragraph with “I” willdistract your reader, who is probably skimming at the left margin.)
- Don’t take time to apply outdated rules. You can start a sentence with any word you choose. You can end a sentence with a preposition. You can use contractions unless your document must be formal.
When your communication focuses on its goal and answers your readers’ questions in clear sentences and paragraphs, you are finished revising. Just run your grammar and spelling checker; then proofread. Hurray! The piece is done! Now move on to the next one.
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1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not to end sentence with.
3. Avoid clichès like the plague (They’re old hat.).
4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
5. One should never generalize.
6. Comparisons are as bad as clichès.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Sentence fragments. Eliminate.
9. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
10. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
11. Who needs rhetorical questions?
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When reading essays, books, and novels, many people enjoy traveling through long, complex sentences with twists and turns that lead to a satisfying end. But in business writing, readers want a short, clear path to understanding. Follow the four tips below to edit long sentences.
1. Include just one idea per sentence. When sentences have several ideas, readers need to figure out the relationship between the ideas. They need to suspend their understanding until they get to the period (full stop). In contrast, readers can quickly grasp each one-idea sentence and move on to the next.
The sentence below packs in three ideas. The punctuation makes is easy to recognize them.
Test Yourself Number 1: Revise this three-idea sentence, whose length makes readers move slowly:
Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document and that you fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.Revise the sentence to communicate just one idea per sentence. After you have tried, you can check my revision. It appears at the end of this article.
In baseball, the windup is the pitcher’s actions before releasing the ball. Although important to the pitcher, the windup can distract the batter. The same is true of readers: If you begin a sentence with a fancy windup, you may lose your readers before releasing your main idea. Instead, start with your subject.This sentence has a dizzying windup, which makes it too long and complicated:
Test Yourself Number 2: Start with the subject rather than the long windup in this sentence, so readers do not struggle to understand its meaning:By keeping the three critical success factors in mind and talking with your unit manager or your peer coach whenever you find yourself struggling with an employee issue, you should have the greatest opportunity for success as a new supervisor.
My revision appears at the end of the article.
Your revision might look like mine: The navigation panel on the left side of the screen is the same for all contractors. It helps them navigate through the site to find what they need quickly.
Test Yourself Number 3: Break up this long sentence by inserting a period and replacing and. Then compare your revision with mine, which appears at the end of the article.
Recently there have been several calls and emails from individuals who are using an MS Excel version dated earlier than 2007 and are not able to save their changes based on the instructions provided in the guidelines.
4. Do not let a long list transform your sentence into a solid wall of text. Often you need to include a list in your writing. But a sentence burdened with a long list can become a blur to your reader. If that happens, your reader will not see any of the important information in your list. The solution is to break up the long, heavy sentence into bullet points or short sentences that keep your reader’s attention.
How would you revise this list-heavy sentence?
- Counseling managers on issues ranging from major incidents to employee communications and community relations.
- Representing the company with various groups.
- Supporting the needs of individual plants.
- Managing strategic media opportunities and crisis communications.
- Placing community advertising.
- Publicizing company efforts in environmental stewardship.
Test Yourself Number 4: Restructure this long sentence so that each part stands out:If new information concerning the case should come to your attention, if you should leave the area for more than a few days, or if you should change your address or telephone number, please advise Marie Smith or your insurance agent immediately.
Solution to Number 1:Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document. Also, please fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application. This step is just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.Solution to Number 2:You should have the greatest opportunity for success as a new supervisor if you do these two things: Keep the three critical success factors in mind. Talk with your unit manager or your peer coach whenever you find yourself struggling with an employee issue.Solution to Number 3:Recently there have been several calls and emails from individuals who are using an MS Excel version dated earlier than 2007. They are not able to save their changes based on the instructions provided in the guidelines.Solution to Number 4:Please immediately advise Marie Smith or your insurance agent if any of these occurs:
New information concerning the case comes to your attention.
You leave the area for more than a few days.
You change your address or telephone number.
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The sequence can be understood as either of two sequences, each with four discrete sentences, by adding punctuation:
That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.
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[yah-hoo, yey-, yah-hoo]
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by KAMAL SUCHARAN BURRI
Being a filmmaker and writer, I’ve discovered some ridiculous but enlightening tips that increase the potential of a writer. I was totally astonished by the fact that they worked for me.
I’ve just noticed this a few days back. I have the habit of writing scripts in notebooks and sometimes in separate pages. One day I went to the bookshop and accidentally purchased the “NOTEPAD”, the one where you flip off pages vertically. I started writing on it; to my bewilderment the writing flow of mine was awesome. It might be due to fewer distractions from the previous page as I obviously flip off to the new page every time. I don’t know why, but trust me, it works. Read More…
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It’s a familiar scene: you’re slumped over your keyboard or notebook, obsessing over your character. While we tend to agonize over everything from structure to backstory, it’s important to weigh how you write something too. A perfectly constructed world is flat on the page if you use feeble, common words. When you’re finished constructing your perfectly balanced world, do your writing a favor and take another pass to weed out these 18 haggard words.
High on any list of most used English words is “good.” While this word may appear to be the perfect adjective for nearly anything, that is precisely what makes it so vague. Try getting more specific. If something’s going well, try “superb,” “outstanding” or “exceptional.”
Another of the common words in English is “new.” “New” is an adjective that doesn’t always set off alarm bells, so it can be easy to forget about. Give your writing more punch by ditching “new” and using something like “latest” or “recent” instead.
Much like “new,” “long” is spent, yet it doesn’t always register as such while you’re writing. Instead of this cliché phrase, try describing exactly how long it is: “extended,” “lingering” or “endless,” for example.
“Old” is certainly one of those common words that means more to readers if you’re specific about how old a subject is. Is it “ancient,” “fossilized,” “decaying” or “decrepit”?
“Right” is also among the common words that tends to slip through our writer filters. If somebody is correct, you could also say “exact” or “precise.” Don’t let habit words like “right” dampen your writing.
Here’s another adjective that falls a bit flat for readers, but can also easily be improved by getting more specific. Saying something is “odd” or “uncommon” is very different than saying it is “exotic” or “striking.”
“Small” is another adjective that is too generic for writing as good as yours. Use “microscopic,” “miniature” or “tiny” instead. Even using “cramped” or “compact” is more descriptive for your audience.
Just like relying too much on “small,” we tend to describe large things as, well, “large.” Specificity is a big help with this one too: could your subject be “substantial,” “immense,” “enormous” or “massive”?
Whenever we describe something coming “next,” we run the risk of losing our readers. Good options to make your reading more powerful include “upcoming,” “following” or “closer.”
Another case of being too generic is what makes “young” a problematic adjective. If you want your writing to be more captivating, try switching “young” out for “youthful,” “naive” or “budding.”
“Never” is also among common words to use sparingly. Not only is it a common, stale descriptor, it’s also usually incorrect. For something to never happen, even one instance makes this word inaccurate. Try “rarely,” “scarcely” or “occasionally” instead.
“Things” is another repeat offender when it comes to worn out words. Another word where specificity is the key, try replacing “things” with “belongings,” “property” or “tools.”
Just like “never,” “all” is an encompassing, absolute term. Not only is “all” unoriginal, it’s not usually factual. Try using “each” and “copious” instead.
“Feel” is also in the company of common English words. Try using “sense,” or “discern” instead. You can also move your sentence into a more active tense: “I feel hungry” could become “I’m famished,” for example.
“Seem” is bad habit word we are all guilty of using. Regardless of how well you think your sentence is constructed, try switching “seem” out for “shows signs of.” “Comes across as” is another good option to give your writing more power.
Another easy adjective to let slip by, “almost” is a wasted opportunity to engage your readers. “Almost” is more interesting if you say “practically,” “nearly” or “verging on” instead.
“Just making” it or “just barely” affording something isn’t very descriptive. To truly grab a reader, we must do better. Try “narrowly,” “simply” or “hardly” to give your phrasing more weight.
Last but not least, avoid using the common word “went” to describe your subject. “Went” is a word that lacks traction. Try using “chose,” “decided on” or “rambled” to truly grab your readers.
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One does not have to persistently study the literary canon in order to discover compelling narratives and characters. Turning inward and paying close attention to dreams and nightmares makes for an excellent way for aspirant writers to pull themselves out of creative ruts or get started on a new literary piece. Even before Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung wrote their seminal works on dream and archetype interpretation, some of the most famous and influential people (not just authors, playwrights and poets!) sought inspiration in the dreaming world. The following famous books contain elements inspired either by specific subconscious visuals or the bizarre, convoluted way in which they meander through the mind and senses.
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The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
From Stephenie Meyer’s dreams of a sparkly vampire talking to a puny human woman came the media juggernaut about sparkly vampires and the puny human women who love them. She has yet to mention whether or not the series’ glorification of emotional abuse also came from her nocturnal adventures.
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It probably comes as little shock to anyone even tangentially familiar with the work of horror master H.P. Lovecraft that the man pulled his inspiration from the vivid nightmares he suffered most nights. Any novel or short story featuring the Great Old Ones especially drew from the more twisted corners of his subconscious.
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Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Though no definitive answers exist regarding whether or not John Bunyan launched the classic Pilgrim’s Progress because of his dreams, he certainly pulled plenty of inspiration from their structure. So while nobody knows for certain, the fact that he so diligently paid attention to how they operated in order to pen his unearthly prose still earns him a place on this list.
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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
As with most of H.P. Lovecraft’s terrifying tales, this horror classic also sprang into existence because of its writer’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.
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Misery by Stephen King
Another visceral, memorable novel revolving around humanity’s ugliest tendencies unsurprisingly popped straight from respected author Stephen King’s sleeping life. While dozing off on a flight to London, he found inspiration in a chilling nightmare about a crazed woman killing and mutilating a favorite writer and binding a book in his skin. The final product, of course, came out just a little bit different.
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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Following the death of her and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s daughter at only 12 days old, the heartbroken Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin dreamt of the child coming back to life after massaging her near a fire. She wrote of it in the collaborative journal she kept with her poet lover (later husband), and most literary critics believe it later grew into one of the most iconic, influential horror novels of all time.
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Stuart Little by E.B. White
One of the most memorable and beloved characters from children’s literature sauntered into E.B. White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later. From there, the tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse became a classic that continues to delight both adults and kids even today.
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Though separating fact from fiction when it comes to Edgar Allan Poe’s internal life remains a difficult task, most literary critics believe his legendary, hallucinatory poems and short stories stemmed from troubled nightmares. Considering how frequently dreams and dreamlike imagery and structure crop up in his oeuvre, it’s a more than safe assumption.
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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Part of the eponymous character’s personal arc stems from her highly detailed dreams, both asleep and diurnal slips in and out of consciousness. Though she may not have necessarily pulled inspiration from her own personal dreams, Charlotte Bronte wielded the common literary device of prophetic, subconscious visions, carefully aping their real-life hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness structure.
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Fantasia of the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence
Really, most of D.H. Lawrence’s more lilting, dreamlike works such as Women in Love could qualify for inclusion here. However, Fantasia of the Unconscious so perfectly maps out such experiences and explains their importance and inspiration in such great detail it edges out any other competing works.
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Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac
Everything readers need to know about this novel comes straight from the title. Beat poster boy Jack Kerouac kept and published a book comprised entirely of his dreams, spanning from 1952 to 1960 and starring characters from many of his other works.
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Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Considering the heavy spiritual and philosophical core of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, it probably comes as little surprise that it initially sprung from Richard Bach’s daydreams of a drifting seabird. Interestingly enough, he could only finish the original draft following another series of subconscious visions!
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The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Reiko Matsuura
Though available in English and enjoying cult rather than mainstream attention, the novel of a woman who wakes up with a penis for a toe became a bestseller in its native Japan. Her incredibly original premise, meant to explore gender identity and relations, came to her through a most unusual dream she eventually adapted into a favored work of fiction.
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Twelve Stories and a Dream by H.G. Wells
“A Dream of Armageddon,” specifically, though some claim that many of H.G. Wells’ other classic science-fiction works likely sprouted partially from his dream life. As the title describes, this harrowing work speculates on the dangerous directions in which mankind’s technology could ultimately lead it.
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“Kubla Khan” from Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
One of the most famous examples of dream-inspired literature, the famous poem — printed in the book Christabel – wafted into Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s brain from a combination of sleep and opium. One of his most beloved works, he described it as a “fragment” rather than a whole, though most critics these days analyze it as the latter.
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Amazing — incredible, unbelievable, improbable, fabulous, wonderful, fantastic, astonishing, astounding, extraordinary
Anger — enrage, infuriate, arouse, nettle, exasperate, inflame, madden
Angry — mad, furious, enraged, excited, wrathful, indignant, exasperated, aroused, inflamed
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If you’re not a fan of his books then it’s probably no surprise that Charles Dickens is credited with inventing the word boredom in his classic 1853 novel Bleak Read More…
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