Polish Your Writing with Style, Part 1

Posted on: May 22, 2009

At this point in the writing process, you have worked your way through the thinking and planning phases, created a solid outline, and are now writing the first draft. This brings us to the issue of how to say what you have to say: style.

Style is a wonderful subject, complex and endlessly fascinating. I would be the last to suggest that one book, much less one blog, could begin to convey the scope and depth of its principles — and pitfalls.

Therefore, two initial recommendations: First, buy some good reference books on style, grammar and usage. Read them. Apply what you learn in your daily writing. In addition, seek out web sites that offer authoritative information. Second, take the following suggestions to heart. Strive to use them in your work.

Purposeful. Your writing must meet the planning and conceptual-design requirements you established at the outset of the writing project. Get rid of anything that has no purpose in terms of those requirements. Your writing must also follow the outline you created for the document.

Accurate. The information you gather for the document must be as true and technically accurate as possible. Know your subject. Rely on your product and subject-matter experts. Errors in accuracy can cost your company time and money, loss of customer goodwill and sales — and increase liability.

Consistent. In business and technical writing, it is usually preferable to refer to the same thing, fact or procedure in the same way every time you mention it. Ambiguity and implication can irritate readers and often confuse them. Watch for consistency in terminology, capitalization, units and measures, and abbreviations, for example.

Clear. How you say what you have to say should seem as transparent as possible to your reader. This is not, however, only a matter of grammar, punctuation and good composition. You must also understand the purpose of the document. You must know your audience and have a solid grasp of your subject.

In a future blog, I’ll share a few more suggestions for achieving a good writing style. In the meantime, you can begin to improve your writing style by practice: read and write attentively. Cast an analytical and critical eye on your work.


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