Basics of Good Writing

Editing and re-writing are fundamental to good writing.  Nobody dashes off a work of genius on the first try,  Outline what you want to say; write a draft; edit and rewrite it; then edit again. 

Get another person to edit your writing too, preferably someone who's not afraid to risk hurting your feelings a little.  Accept their criticism graciously; it's not about you, it's just your writing!  Editing other peoplesí writing will help you become a better writer yourself.

When you read something that holds your interest or grabs your imagination, try to analyze what makes it effective.  Developing critical reading skills will make you a better writer. 

Many students have ponderous, tortured writing styles; forget trying to sound academic!  Start by trying to write the way you speak--straightforwardly (minus the uhís, likeís and swearwords, of course).

Try to convey your ideas in as few words as possible.  Editing should focus on getting rid of words and phrases that arenít relevant or donít really support the point youíre trying to make removing extraneous verbiage.  Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in about two minutes, following a two-hour oration by Edward Everett.  Nobody remembers what Everett said.

Do not depend on your spell-checker; it will betray you hear and their.  MS-Wordís grammar checker is not very sophisticated either.

Word-processors allow you to rearrange whole blocks of text to improve the flow of your argument, so do it!

Word choice matters.  Build vocabulary with your reading, writing and speaking.

Nouns and verbs are stronger than adjectives; adverbs modifying adjectives are weakest.

Avoid passive verb forms; they often sound weak or even disingenuous: Mistakes were made.

Vary your sentence structures: simple, compound, shorter, longer. Long sentences need clear structures.

Be aware of the voice in your writing; and practice different voices for different audiences. The voice in your academic writing may not convey as much of your personality as your letter to the editor, but academic writing doesnít have to be boring.