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Five Top Techniques To Improve Your Writing

by Barbara McNichol

Anyone who works in an organization needs to have a good command of the written language. To make your writing as clear as possible, use the following Five Top Techniques and you'll communicate in a more powerful way.

1. Make Verbs Dance

The meaning of a sentence comes across effortlessly and clearly when its verb comes "alive." Compare these sentences:

Passive  - "The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy."

Active  - "The boy chomped into the watermelon's belly, enjoying each juicy bite."

A lively, active verb make this sentence dance.

2. Get Agreements

When you put a singular subject with the plural form of the verb, you weaken your writing, risk confusing your readers and make grammarians groan. In the example "a group of clients were in town," the subject of the sentence "group" is singular while the verb "were" belongs with a plural subject. So you would write "a group of clients was in town" or "several clients were in town." Better yet, liven up the sentence with an active verb: "a group of clients landed in town."

However, beware of verb agreements using the subject "none" as in: "None of the clients were in town." In this case, "none" means "not any of the writers," which makes it a plural subject requiring the plural form of the verb. 

3. Stay on a Parallel Path

A mixed bag of sentence structures wiggle their way into sentences unnecessarily. Here's what I mean: "His attitude makes a difference in changing, succeeding, and when he wants to move on." The writer forces the reader to shift gears too abruptly by throwing in the non-parallel phrase "when he wants to move one." You want to avoid breaking an expected pattern. To keep the mental gears from grinding, write; "His attitude makes a difference in changing, succeeding, and moving on."

4. Watch for Mixed Modifiers

"When thinking about a good place to eat, many choices are available." Are the "many choices" doing the thinking? I doubt it! Mixed modifiers and dangling participles get in the way of crisp, intentional communication. Write this instead: "When thinking about a good place to eat, the traveler had many choices." Clearly, the traveler is doing the thinking.

5. Select the Right Word

Do certain words trip you up? Do you write "further" when you mean "farther" or "accept" instead of "except?" Select the correct word from two similar-but-different options to save confusion for the reader and embarrassment for you. Jump into your dictionary to differentiate between "choose" and "chose." Better yet, keep a reference guide handy, one that quickly clarifies trick combos such as than vs. then, stationery vs. stationary, loath vs. loathe and so on.

One easy and entertaining reference is Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner (Riverbend Books, New York, 1996). A former editor at The New York Times Book Review, Patricia conducts grammar course for employees at the Times. If you have a favorite resource, please let me know. Our goal is to get the message across clearly - without making grammarians groan.

 

Barbara McNichol works with speakers, authors and business communications to polish their marketing materials, web sites and manuscripts. She is the creator of Word Trippers: A Quick Guide to Words That Trip You Up. Contact Barbara at 303-450-7377 or visit her web site at www.BarbaraMcNichol.com  
                                            
ExpertMagazine.com 2001

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