George V. Reilly

Writing Clearly

Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don't Want to Work at Writing

I sometimes joke that I must be adopted because my parents have no aptitude for computers. I could make a similar joke about writing. Many of my immediate family, despite decent educations, seem to be incapable of writing a simple English sentence, much less a coherent paragraph.

One relative writes emails that are bereft of punc­tu­a­tion: neither a comma nor a full stop (period) is to be found. Capital letters occur, but too randomly for my liking. And everything is linked into one paragraph, no matter how long or disjointed. Yet, I’ve received adequately punctuated hand­writ­ten letters and postcards from him. I attribute his email sloven­li­ness to a com­bi­na­tion of laziness and hunt-and-peck typing. Whatever the cause, it reflects poorly on him.

John Scalzi has some Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don’t Want to Work at Writing. Here’s the summary:

  1. Speak what you write … If what you’re writing is hard to speak, what makes you think it’s going to be easy to read? It won’t be. …
  2. Punctuate, damn you: For God’s sake, is it really so hard to know where to put a comma? …
  3. With sentences, shorter is better than longer.
  4. Learn to friggin’ spell.
  5. Don’t use words you don’t really know.
  6. Grammar matters, but not as much as anal grammar Nazis think it does.
  7. Front-load your point.
  8. Try to write well every single time you write.
  9. Read people who write well.
  10. When in doubt, simplify.
  11. Speak what you write.

Go read the whole thing.

I found some useful links in the comments that follow Scalzi’s Tips:

And here’s a few tips of my own:

This isn’t enough to turn you into a pro­fes­sion­al writer, but it will make a marked im­prove­ment in what you write.

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