Home     Contents     Email course     Seminars     Books     Weekly columns     Contact



  Writing for Business and Pleasure

  Copyright 2014 by
Stephen Wilbers

Column of the Month



Since the publication of this column, I've compiled my 52 writing tips into a book titled Mastering the Craft of Writing. I hope you find both this column and my book helpful.


First published July 9, 2007

Five more techniques to improve your style

By Stephen Wilbers

Several columns ago I recommended five techniques to help you write with clarity, emphasis, and style. Are you ready for another five? First, a quick review of the original five:

1. Make every word count. Don’t waste the reader’s time. Change “due to be fact that” to “because.” Change “in the event that” to “if.”

2. Prefer action verbs to nouns. Verbs add energy to your style. Change “We need to make a change in our approach” to “We need to change our approach.” Change “He raised an objection to our policy” to “He objected to our policy.”

3. Dont trust modifiers. Adjectives and adverbs often are superfluous. Change “true fact” to “fact.” Change “refer back” to “refer.”

4. Trim sentence endings to create emphasis. Take advantage of the natural stress point at the ending of a sentence by trimming excess words. Change “Does it stink like rotten meat would smell to you?” to “Does it stink like rotten meat?” Change “Where is the library at?” to “Where is the library?”

5. Take advantage of opening prominence. Moving a word or phrase forward sometimes creates more emphasis. Change “I will never again allow this to happen ” to “Never again will I allow this to happen.” Change “I’m telling you for the last time I won’t do it” to “For the last time I’m telling you I won’t do it.”

Now for the next five techniques:

6. Use parallel structure to write with distinction. Repeating a grammatical structure creates emphasis and sometimes adds elegance. Change “She was healthy, wealthy, and an athlete” to “She was healthy, wealthy, and athletic.” Change “It’s better if you ask what you can do for your country rather than the reverse” to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

7. Add trailing elements. To create more variety in your sentence structure, add a phrase or clause after the main part of the sentence. Change “It’s sunny and warm outside. I think I’ll go swimming” to “It’s sunny and warm outside, a perfect day for swimming.”

8. Pause for emphasis. Pausing mid-sentence gives a sentence shape and personality. Change “The one thing that motivates me is social justice” to “I am motivated by one thing: social justice.”

9. End with the thought you intend to develop next. This arrangement creates greater coherence. Change “There are two natural stress points in a sentence” to “A sentence contains two natural stress points.”

10. Appeal to the senses. Sensory detail makes writing memorable. Change “The customer was very dissatisfied with my letter” to “The customer slammed my letter down on the counter.”

With these new techniques in mind, revise this sentence: “We met and had a conversation at the designated location, which was a cluttered office.”

How about “We met and talked at the designated location: an office cluttered with cardboard boxes”?

I’m working on a list of 52 techniques of style.  If you would like for me to send you my new tips as I write them, visit Free Monthly Tips.


Weekly columns
delivered by email