Don’t let your writing get disorganized like these puppy paw prints in the snow.
By Shelley Widhalm
Shorter writing needs to have some snap—what you say is important but how you say it is even more important.
That “how” is style—or your voice and the way you structure sentences and lay out the overall content. Writing that is wordy, wanders off topic or lacks transitions can lose readers, as can a first sentence that uses clichés, doesn’t set the scene or fails to make a point.
Writing, whether it’s a short story, a blog or an article, can become simple, clean and crisp by following a few steps.
First off, use straightforward language and simpler words. Simpler words have broader connotations, while longer, complicated words tend to have more specific meanings.
One way to do this is to use fewer adverbs—an adverb, which often ends in “-ly,” is used to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb, often to show degree, manner, place or time. For instance, saying, “it’s very hot” is unnecessary when “hot” will do. Adverbs end up filling space without adding to the sentence’s meaning. Instead, choose a stronger verb, such as replacing “the dog barked loudly, lifting its snout” with “the dog howled.”
Ways to Simplify Writing
There are a few additional grammar tricks to simplify writing that are easy to employ, resulting in something that is easier and more appealing to read.
- Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs to keep the reader’s eye moving. Avoid writing every sentence as subject and predicate—the subject is who or what the sentence is about and the predicate tells about the subject. For example, in the sentence, “The dog ate my sandwich,” the dog is the subject, and the act of eating is the verb and the sandwich is the object.
- Avoid redundancies and using the same word twice in nearby sentences and paragraphs, though meanings can be different. For instance, don’t say, “She backed up into her parking space, noticing how her back hurt from twisting in her seat.”
- Use the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
- Use parallel forms in sentences, lining up verb tenses and other parts of the sentence in a consistent way. For example, say, “I went to the store, bought some chocolate and ate it before I got home,” not, “I went to the store, chocolate caught my attention and buying it, I couldn’t help eating it right away.”
- Eliminate prepositions and filler words and phrases. Prepositions show direction, location or time or introduce an object and include words like “at,” “by,” “for,” “in,” “of,” “on,” “to” and “with.”
- Use specific and concrete language, not general terms, favoring “long-haired miniature dachshund” over “dog,” to give a clearer image of meaning.
Ways to Improve Content
As for the content, be clear on the concepts you want to address, bringing order to the thoughts or story. Be clear on what you want to write about, thinking about the different angles the topic might take and sorting out the main ideas from asides and trivial details. Explain at the right level without over-explaining, saying the same thing more than once, or under-explaining by leaving out crucial details. Avoid redundancies, needlessly repeating a word or phrase, and going off topic with more details than are necessary.
Too much or too little can lose readers, and the idea is to get readers engaged and to make it fun for you, as the writer.