04 October 2010

Stylistic Tips

Although our approach to writing has been one of process, wherein student writers learn to create language from the inside out so to speak, you may nevertheless profit from some tried and true rules of thumb when going over your writing before the final printing.

The Umpteen Commandments (subject to amendments and additions)

--Avoid beginning clauses with unattached pronouns.  Not "This is because..." but "This condition is because"

--Prefer the simple present to the present progressive.  Not "He is running" but "He runs."

--Cut out phrases whose absence will not change the meaning of the sentence.  Not "This type of/kind of/sort of action" when "this action" will do.

--Watch out for words that have lost their meaning and/or resonance due to overuse, misuse, or lack of precision.  "The book was interesting."  "The essay was descriptive."  "The performer had a unique style."  "War is the ultimate solution."  "He is a nice man."

--Do not needlessly separate the subject from the predicate. 
Needful:  "Joe Ross, my boss, lives in Seattle."
Needless: "Frank, when his brother was killed, turned himself in."

--Use the possessive case before the gerund.
Not "Jim hitting the field goal won the game."
But "Jim's hitting the field goal won the game."

--Prune intensifiers.  They usually mean that the following word is not the one that precisely fits your meaning.  Not "The book was extremely dull."  But "The book was tedious or stupefying or soporific."  P.S., do not intensify absolute words like unique, enigmatic, ultimate, etc.  You cannot have "a touch of pregnancy" or be suffering from "a mild case of death."  So too are words like "unique" absolute:  something is either unique or it is not, period.

--Make each sentence as brief as it can be while expressing what you want it to.

--If you have a choice, choose the concrete word over the abstract word.  Not "He wanted a man with more strength."  But "He wanted a man with more brawn."

--Make sure each word you choose is the most appropriate, the most precise.  Otherwise, you are letting words choose the meaning rather than your choosing the meaning and finding the word that fits.

--Never needlessly use the passive voice.

--Never needlessly split infinitives.
Not "to quickly run" but "to run quickly"

--Try to make your prose "verb-centered" rather than "noun-centered."  Not "He is a sculptor" but "He sculpts."

--Vary sentence construction and length.  Use simple sentences, for example, to begin or conclude points, compound sentences to draw together two or more ideas, and complex or complex/compound sentences to explain the relationship between ideas.  Most well-developed paragraphs contain all four types of sentences.

--Avoid clich├ęs, truisms, trite expressions, familiar metaphors, mixed metaphors, adages, and worn-out images.  Ex.  My "tried and true" at the beginning of this handout.

--Remember, you are inventing language and knowledge every time you write.  You are creating some thing new.  Make it beautiful and meaningful.

--Finally, remember that you do not know what you think about something until you have written, and rewritten and rewritten about it.  You cannot be a great writer without being a great thinker:  learning to write can make you smarter, honest.

No comments:

Post a Comment

How to Receive a Paper Back from your Professor

How to Receive a Paper Back from Assessment One of the most important and, alas, overlooked aspects of learning in college is the approp...