Writing 101

I’m reviewing the book, Writing 101, by Claudia Sorsby (ISBN: 0-312-95975-3) to get some ideas for my writing class. This book lists 101 tips to improve your writing. Here are the 101 tips. I’ll add my thoughts for each of these tips in a timely manner.

Certainly, not all of these tips are appropriate for my students. Some will come along later in their schooling. However, they provide an excellent structure to build from.

Be Clear

This rule and the next one are important. Teach the students to say what they are going to say in a clear and concise way. Have the students write a set of instructions. If the steps or words don’t explain, eliminate them.

Show the students basic pictures. Have them write descriptions.

Be Concise

From the book, Writing 101,

Good writing is concise. Say what you have to say, no more and no less. Don’t waste your reader’s time with empty filler.

Get to the point right away. Imagine writing as speaking. A friend needs to ask you if you can lend him $50.00. Instead of asking you right way for the $50.00, they begin with a long litany about how times are tough, multiple bills, problems with work, the price of gas, and so on.

Ask the person for the $50.00! If they say “no”, you may want to give some reasons to see if your friend will change his mind.

Begin your writing with your a target statement. Ger right to the point! This is especially important for business writing and email. Don’t save your main point for the end of your email. Your recipient may delete that email before they get to your main point.

What are some great ways to train yourself to write concisely?

  • Set a word count limit. Pick a topic that interests you and use 100 words to describe what you like about that topic. My favorite instrument is the acoustic guitar. Expressing why I like the acoustic guitar in 100 words or less is the goal.

  • Blog. Blogging is a great way to write concisely and to refine your writing skills. Write one blog entry per day. Your first sentence needs to capture your reader’s interest. You need to be concise. Nobody wants to read a webpage as a blog entry.

  • Practice using Twitter or text messaging. Both technologies force a strict character limitation. These technologies are great for refining topic sentences or for writing definitions. Text messaging and Twitter limit you to approximately 150 characters (letter, numbers, special characters) not words. Use 150 characters to tell your friend why he should lend you $50.00. Use 150 characters to define the present continuous tense.

Be Interesting

Attention spans are short! Nobody watches boring TV shows or listens to boring music. They’ll remote control their way to something interesting.

Nobody reads boring writing! If you don’t hook your reader with your first few sentences, they are gone!

From Writing 101,

Once upon a time, there was a teacher who declared that she would only read a paper for as long as it held her interest. As soon as a report became dull, she would stop reading and grade only the part she had read. If that meant reading only the first half, or the first quarter of the paper, then it was just too bad for the student.

I love that quote. It gets you out of the mindset that “if you write it, they will read it.”

Keep this image in mind when you write. Do you want your readers to grade your company or product only from the writing that interests them?

What about a business plan that you are presenting to a group of venture capitalists? Do you want to lose your invest opportunity in the first paragraph? Second paragraph?

Interesting writing is not difficult. Be visual! Each paragraph is a scene in a movie. There is a reason for each paragraph.

If you are writing about a person, make your readers care about that person.

Use the active voice, not the passive voice. When you use the active voice, the subject performs the action. When you use the passive voice, the action happens to the subject. Here are some examples:

Active Voice

  • The boy hits the ball.
  • The lady drives the car.
  • Click on the SAVE button to save your document.

Passive Voice

  • The boy was hit by the ball.
  • The car was driven by the lady.
  • When the SAVE button is clicked, your document is saved.

Sometimes you have to write about a topic that does not interest you. Just because that topic does not interest you, it does not mean that your writing should be boring and uninteresting.

From Writing 101,

If the topic has been assigned, by a teacher or perhaps an editor, try to find an angle that does appeal to you. If that doesn’t work, find someone (in person, or in a book or article) who is enthusiastic about it. Often enthusiasm can be contagious. If all else fails, take a craftsman’s attitude. You have a job to do, and you are going to do it with pride.

Follow Instructions: Ten Pages Means Ten Pages

This is a simple rule to follow. Write what you are assigned to write. As the topic title says, ten pages means ten pages.

Page length is one aspect to follow but also follow the instructions for topic and other instructions. For example, you may be asked to write about the teaching requirements mandated by your state. Include footnotes and references to your state’s requirements.

These instructions tell me that this is going to be an expository style of writing, I need to do research, and I need to reference my state’s teaching requirements. This is not an opinion piece.

What if I’m not sure what to do? Maybe I have an idea that is similar? Maybe I have a better angle for this topic? What should I do? Follow the next rule.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Manage Your Time Efficiently
Prepare Your Materials
Clear Your Head
Always Know Your Audience
Back Up As You Go
Cite Your Source Material As You Go
Find a Focus
Explore the Depth and Range of Your Topic
Define Key Terms and Concepts Up Front
Choose an Appropriate Form
Choose an Appropriate Tone
Choose an Appropriate Point of View
Make an Outline
Keep Your Notes and Outline for Later Reference
State Your Purpose Clearly from the Beginning
Make Sure Your Points Are Strong
Use Specific Examples
Avoid Sweeping Generalizations or Oversimplifications
Always Use Evidence to Back Up Arguments and Claims
Check Your Facts
Make Sure Your Argument as a Whole Is Coherent and Clear
Use Standard English
Don’t Overcorrect
Choose Your Words Carefully:Consider Connotations as Well as Meaning
Don’t Use Pretentious or Flowery Language
Don’t Use Slang
Don’t Use Vulgarity or Profanity
Don’t Use Sexist Language
Avoid Cliches
Use Strong Verbs
Use Vivid, Specific Adjectives and Adverbs
Use Foreign Terms Sparingly
Avoid Archaic Words and Dates Expressions
Avoid Jargon: Use Technical or Specialized Language Sparingly
Don’t Use Unnecessary Obscure Euphemisms
Improve Your Vocabulary
Take Advantage of Rhythm and Sound
Avoid Choppiness
Avoid Fragments
Avoid Run-on Sentences
Break Up Excessively Long or Rambling Sentences
Avoid Complicated or Confusing Constructions
Avoid Multiple Negatives
Vary Your Sentence Structure
Avoid the Passive Voice, Where Possible
Avoid Redundancy
Use Synonyms to Avoid Excessive Repetition
Avoid Beginning Sentences with Conjunctions
Keep Your Verb Tenses Consistent
Use the Subjunctive, and Use It Properly
Make Sure Each Pronoun Has a Clear Antecedent
Don’t overuse Parentheses
Use Hyphens and Dashes Correctly
Use Footnotes or Endnotes for Tangential Material
Use Appendices for Extra Factual Material
Know When to Write Out Numerals
Use Abbreviations and Acronyms
Don’t Rely Too Much on Qualifiers and Modifiers
Avoid Non Sequiturs
Use Exclamatory Statements Sparingly
Avoid Hyperbole
Use Figurative Language with Care
Avoid Mixed Metaphors
Paragraph Properly
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Sections
Don’t Drift: Signpost to Reinforce
Don’t Let the Seams Show: Use Transitions
Use Parallel Structures to Emphasize Connections
Use Analogies to Illustrate Abstract or Unfamiliar Concepts
Use Contrast and Comparison for Analysis and Emphasis
Consider Tracing Cause and Effect for Structure and Analysis
Draw Your Conclusions
Don’t Overstate Your Case
Never Plagiarize
Quote Correctly
Always Site Your Sources
Be Consistent About How You Site Your Sources
Read Aloud
Test Your Coherence by Omitting Parts
Allow Time to Go Back, Reread, and Revise More
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes or Revisions
Ask Someone Else to Read Over Your Work
Final Read: Make Sure Your Piece Does What You Want It to Do
Know When to Stop
Pay Attention to Detail
Use a Dictionary
Use a Thesaurus
Beware of Homophones
Don’t Rely on Your Spell-Checker
Choose an Interesting and Relevant Title
Make Sure Your Work is Neat and Easy to Read
When Typing, Avoid Widows
Find Your Own Style


1 Response to Writing 101

  1. Pingback: Writing 101 Page Updated « Classrooms Without Walls

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