Writing Tips

Here are a few tips that will help you write better. Although I have prepared the below tips with ESL students in mind, they should be useful for native speaker of English as well.

Each of the following tips is accompanied with at least one example.

1. Keep your sentences short and simple. Use the period rather than a conjunction.

  • BEFORE: The teacher told me that he really appreciated that I had helped Julie with maths, because otherwise she would not have passed the exam.

The original sentence is too long and complicated. It is a good idea to divide it into two shorter sentences. Let's replace the conjugation because with a period:

  • AFTER: The teacher told me that he really appreciated that I had helped Julie with maths. Otherwise, she would not have passed the exam.

Now, this looks much better!

2. If possible, use the active voice rather than the passive voice.

  • BEFORE: The keys have been taken by me.

In this sentence there is no need to use the passive voice. It's much better to use the active voice:

  • AFTER: I have taken the keys.

3. Do not use words and abbreviations that the reader might not be familiar with, or have difficulty understanding.

  • BEFORE: This is a MLE.
  • AFTER: This is a Managed Learning Environment.

4. Try to use nouns and verbs. Don't use too many adjectives or adverbs—they tend to make your sentence unclear.

  • BEFORE: Suddenly, a Bullterrier rushed upon the thief.
  • AFTER: Suddenly, a big dangerous dog attacked violently the frightened man.

The second sentence contains too many adjectives (big, furry, frightened) for such a short sentence, and an unnecessary adverb (violently) as well. It's much better to use "interesting verbs" like rushed upon instead of attack,and nouns like thief orBullterrier instead of simply man or dog.

Why use "interesting nouns"? Because they convey a lot of information, unlike "boring nouns" like man or dog. Words such as thief give the reader an idea about the character being described. The reader can presume that the character is a ruthless villain, that he has stolen in the past, or maybe even that he had some tough childhood!

5. Do not abuse the comma or dash to set off too many parenthetical elements. This will make your writing very complicated and unclear. In most cases, it is better to use a period.

  • BEFORE: Well, if you ask me, the best place to visit in Europe—and I'm trying to be objective here—is Paris which, to tell the truth, I visit regularly every year.

In the above sentence, there is too much parenthetical information. The danger is that someone might get confused reading it. Let's replace some of the commas and dashes with periods:

  • AFTER: Objectively, I think Paris is the best place to visit in Europe. In fact, I visit it regularly every year.