October 25, 2011

I have a ton of writing tips. But for students in a hurry, three essentials always work. Together, they constitute a crash course in cleaning up how they express themselves. If they can get at least these three tools from my classes, then my work is done.

1) Write conversationally

Most students start off in love with long, twisted sentences. They seem to believe that the more they load up on commas, the more intelligent they sound.

squirrelThey also believe that short sentences are too simple.

But the reality is that simple sentences are how we actually talk. Simple sentences are not an act of dumbing down content.

By the way, achieving conversational simplicity is far from simple. Hey, just try creating a paragraph built on short sentences. It requires an extremely sharp mind because each line must logically lead to the next one. There’s no way to hide behind windy words that say blah blah blah.

There’s a powerful tool for organizing conversational writing. The device has an odd name. To learn about the nut graf, click here.


2) Know the difference between using “it” and “they”

Okay, this is a biggie. Getting this right might seem subtle. But knowing how to use “it” versus “they” is an instant game changer…Are you perceived as a talented person with writing potential? Or are you known as a polished writer with a meticulous passion for your craft?


To find the answer, read this:

I love that diner. They serve the best coffee.

Did that look fine to you? If so, ooops! Because this is how it should read:

I love that diner. It serves the best coffee.

To understand the difference between using “it” and “they,” go here.


3) Punctuation defines your writing

People can be very careless with punctuation. After all, it’s just a bunch of dots and squiggles, right? Nope.

Once I explain the importance of commas, periods and dashes, students are quite shocked. Apparently, no one ever told them that punctuation is a marvelous vehicle for self-expression.

Here’s an example. Punctuate the following sentence:

eats shoots leaves

Woman without her man is nothing

It can be tidied up like this:

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Or maybe you prefer this:

Woman — without her, man is nothing.

Care to read more on this fascinating topic? Here’s the link to my blog post about a terrific, funny book about punctuation. The panda bears are part of the joke.