SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING RIGHT
Despite much time and extensive effort, many researchers fail to adequately communicate their findings to others. If a researcher cannot effectively communicate his or her findings, the entire process is not worth the effort. Writing right is a skill learned by training and experience over many academic years.
Two major principles affect the ability to write well. First, one must read extensively. Reading good writing helps develop a “feel” for what is correct and acceptable. Unfortunately, even the major journals contain many badly written articles, but with experience the difference between poor and well written articles will become more and more apparent.
Second, one must write extensively. Writing skills cannot be acquired by writing one or two papers in high school and college. Experience is the best teacher for learning to write well. Of course, volume is not the only issue. A student may write many papers and continually make the same mistakes over and over. A conscious effort must continually be made to write better and better.
As future professionals, writing skills will often be the difference between success and failure. Now is the time to make a concerted effort to improve. Begin by asking yourself whether or not your writing skills and style are as mature as they should be at this stage of your academic career. If not, why not?
Based on more than thirty-five years of personal writing experiences and reading student papers, the following are several suggestions which can lead to improved writing.
(1) Select your words carefully. Be sure the words say what they are supposed to say. Simple words are better than complex words that mean the same thing. Avoid jargon and “show off ” words. Avoid wordiness. All readers appreciate concise and precise usage and diction.
(2) Make an outline. Outline the paper, then outline each section of the paper, then outline each paragraph of each section, and finally outline each sentence in each paragraph. What are your objectives? Where are you going with each part of the paper? What are the major points?
(3) Read what you write aloud. Hearing what you have written will often demonstrate that what looks good really sounds bad. Requiring students to read samples of their writing aloud has often resulted in instant recognition of poor writing style and technical skills.
(4) Revise, edit, and rewrite everything you write. Even a professional writer cannot always get it right the first time. Get it on paper regardless of how correct it is, then you can revise, revise, revise. Revise until every word is needed. Be concise and precise. No sentence should contain any unnecessary words.
(5) Never use passive voice. The subject acts. Active verbs express. Passive voice almost always requires more words. Passive voice is a cardinal sin to all who have to read it.
(6) Avoid unnecessary phrases. Adverbial phrases, such as “with reference to”, “in conjunction with”, “in terms of”, “on the one hand”, and “on the other hand” should be left out of good writing. Other poor phrases include “to say the least”, “and so forth”, “notwithstanding”, “therefore it seems that”, “it is now time for this writer”, “it is interesting to note that”, “also important is the fact that”, “at this point in time”, and “therefore it seems that”. Hedging, such as “moreover”, “furthermore”, “the fact that”, and “however” should be used sparingly.
(7) Know the rules of grammar and syntax. Master them. Use them. Poor usage and syntax are the two major problems for most writers. Using the correct words and arranging them properly are two things one can do to vastly improve.
(8) Make explanation, clarity and precision the strengths of your writing style. Keep these goals in mind every time you write. These will not come easily.
(9) Do not be too dependent on your word processor. Word processors are an aid but using one even with a grammar check will not dramatically improve poor writing. The grammar check will not choose the best words for you. Some features, such as cut-and-paste, are great for revisions.
(10) Be sure you have something to say. Poor research leads to poor writing. Carefully executed research projects will produce the best opportunity to have something of value to say. When you marshal the evidence, you can convince, inform and persuade your readers that it is worthwhile to read what you have written.
(11) Never use certain phrases . “To determine if”
(12) Let it rest. Be sure to give yourself enough time to let the piece lie dormant before a final revision. You will find that fresh ideas and usage will be more apparent. You will also discover that some of the things you wrote were not that good and you will not be entirely sure how these poor ideas got in the paper in the first place. Of course, to do this your time must be managed well.
(13) Take the advise of experienced writers seriously. Why not learn from the mistakes of others? Very often they do know something of considerable value when it comes to writing well. Some of the best advice for writing well comes from an article written by George Orwell entitled Politics and the English Language. Some of his suggestions are given in what he calls “six questions a scrupulous writer will ask for every sentence he or she writes”.
(1) What am I trying to say?
(2) What words will express it?
(3) What image or idiom will make it clearer?
(4) Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
(5) Could I put it more shortly?
(6) Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
A major concept to remember:
“The joy of writing is getting it right.”
Additional Rules for Writing
(1) Never use the word “reader”.
(2) Never use the same terminology more than once or twice on one page.
(3) Never test anything but hypotheses, especially questions and variables.
(4) Never use “you”, “we”, “us”, “our”. Always use third person.
(5) Never use the word “paper”. This is a research report.
(6) Never use the term “looked at” or any form of “look”.
(7) Never begin a sentence with “now” or “with”.
(8) Never say “this will prove”. Statistics never prove anything. One can only draw inferences about the populations from which the samples were selected.
(9) Never say “it is necessary”, “it must be done” or any other emphatic statement.
(10) Be careful about being biased by taking positions. Be objective.
(11) Eliminate all prepositional phrases you can eliminate, especially “of” phrases.
(12) Numbers must be used as per capita, per 1000 or some other way to equate the values between states or counties to account for differences in population sizes.
(13) Papers, chapters and any other inanimate objects cannot “do” anything.
(14) Data are always plural.
(15) Read all suspect sentences aloud again and again.
(16) The independent variable is what affects or does not affect. Dependent variables do not affect each other.
(17) The null hypotheses must be a comparison of a variable for the two samples.
(18) What is wrong with the following sentence? “The sex population is another significant variable.”
(19) Be precise and concise.
Be scholarly. Think and sound scholarly.
|authority about||authority on|
|die with||die of|
|equally as bad||equally bad|
|in accordance to||in accordance with|
|in search for||in search of|
|independent from||independent of|
|prior than||prior to|
|seldom or ever||seldom if ever|
|superior than||superior to|
SOME HACKNEYED (TRITE)
EXPRESSIONS TO AVOID
|1. After all is said and done||11. Bitter end|
|2. Agree to disagree||12. Busy as a bee|
|3. All work and no play||13. By leaps and bounds|
|4. Better late than never||14. Slow but sure|
|5. Cold as ice||15. Straight from the shoulder|
|6. Easier said than done||16. Sweat of his brow|
|7. Green with envy||17. This day and age|
|8. Last but not least||18. Too funny for words|
|9. White as a sheet||19. Wee small hours|
|10. On the ball (on the beam)||20. None the worse for wear|
SOME ADDITIONAL RULES FOR CORRECT
|No first person|
|No dialectical words|
|No politically incorrect language (age, class, geography, health, disability, religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity)|
|No offensive stereotypes or connotations|
|No sexist language|
|Use standard words selected for their purpose.|
HOW TO WRITE GOOD
Sometimes we learn better when the concepts are viewed from a different perspective. With this in mind, here are several very important but often forgotten rules of English.
1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid clichés like the plague. "They’re old hat"
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
12. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. Be more or less specific.
15. Understatement is always best.
16. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be avoided.
20. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
21. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
22. Who needs rhetorical questions?