Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Do's for Writing

The following writing tips have become mine through study and usage, but they are based on techniques advocated by English textbooks, creative writing books, composition books, and various published authors and other experts in the field of writing.

The list of tips is broken into two parts: Things that should be done (posted today), and the things that should not be done (tomorrow's post). Everything is not covered, or I would have a book. Here are some things that can make a difference.

DO the following:

1. Do use first or third person when writing. Second person should be used only when writing directions or in dialogue.

Example of third person: "Roger grabbed his suitcase off the rack."

Example of second person: "You grabbed your suitcase off the rack."

Example of first person: "I grabbed my suitcase off the rack."

2. Do experiment with a variety of sentence beginnings. The following list gives some different ways to begin a sentence:

A. Subject followed by adjective
Example: Curtains, lacy and white, ruffled in the breeze.

B. Adverb
Example: Lazily, the toy duck floated in the tub.

C. Prepositional phrase
Example: Behind the tree, the two boys giggled as they hid.

D. Subordinate adverbial clause
Example: When she saw the knife in his hand, she screamed.

E. Adjective
Example: Lively curls tumbled around her face.

F. Present participle
Example: Laughing, the man felt more relaxed than he had in a long time.

G. Past participle
Example: Frightened, the little girl started crying.

H. Infinitive
Example: To find the truth, Margery vowed she would search wherever needed.

I. Absolute phrase
Example: Her hands shaking from the cold, the woman dropped the valuable vase.

3. Do remember and use the seven C’s of composition:

Clarity - the writing is clear, lucid

Coherence - parts of the writing "stick" together, are connected

Completeness - no parts are missing, has a beginning, middle, and end

Conciseness - condensed, brief, no extra, unneeded padding

Concreteness - solid, united

Continuity - continues in sequence or order

Correctness - rightness, rectification of errors, revised without errors

4. Do use the writing process: brainstorm, organize, support; write rough draft, revise, rewrite until work is error-free and clearly communicates your ideas; do final write for publication, assignment, or posting.

5. Do use correct sentence structure (avoiding run-on sentences and sentence fragments) and a good variety of sentence types (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex).

Examples of run-on sentences:

The boy ran into the house and he called for his mother. (A comma after house would correct this sentence.)

The boy ran into the house, he called for his mother. (This run-on is also called a comma splice. To correct this error, a coordinating conjunction such as "and" must be added after the comma.)

Examples of sentence fragment:

Called for his mother.

Since the phone rang.

Examples of sentence types:
Simple: The dog chased his tail but never caught it. (One set of subject and verb with a complete thought called an independent clause)
Compound: The dog chased his tail, and he caught it. (Two or more independent clauses, joined correctly)
Complex: With his hand held out in supplication, the man begged for help. {One independent clause - the man begged for help - and one or more dependent clauses [has subject and verb, but without a complete thought] - with his hand held out in supplication)
Compound-complex: With his hand held out in supplication, the man begged for help, but he never said a word. (Two or more independent clauses joined correctly and one or more dependent clauses)

6. Do use correct spelling and a variety of correctly used words (increase your vocabulary). Use spell check, dictionary, Google (search engine at ) and a thesaurus. Check for words that sound the same but have different meanings so that the correct word is used. (Examples: it's and its; your and you're; their, there, and they're). Use synonyms for overused words, but be sure the synonym "fits" the way you use it in a sentence.

Spell all right correctly. All right is always two words, just as all wrong is two words.

Distinguish between which and that:
A. Which is used with non-necessary clauses. Example: The book, which sits on the table, has a red cover.
B. That is used with necessary clauses. Example: The book that I need has been taken from the library.

Distinguish between sit and set
A. Sit means to perch, to be situated, and it doesn't have a direct object.
B. Set means to place, and it has a direct object.

7. Do use correct pronouns and correct pronoun references. Also avoid using a vague “it.” It as a pronoun should refer to a singular noun or indefinite pronoun (such as anything) used previously and closely to the pronoun.

Example of incorrect pronoun usage: Does anyone have their paperwork completed? (Anyone is singular while their is plural.) To correct this sentence, we need to either use a plural antecedent or change their to his or her.

Another example of incorrect pronoun usage: Mary gave gifts to John and I. (I is the object of the preposition to and must be the object form me.)

Another example of incorrect usage of I: This idea is between you and I. (Should be you and me because between is a preposition, too.)

Example of vague "it": It was a beautiful day. Rewriting avoids the vague "it": The sun shone brightly, creating a beautiful day. (The revision also avoids the use of a state-of-being verb and uses an action verb. It also tells the reader what "beautiful" means.)

8. Do use correct punctuation and capitalization, even in poetry.

9. Do have correct subject / verb agreement.

Example of incorrect subject/verb agreement: One of the children have forgotten the date. (One is the subject.)

Example of correct subject/verb agreement: One of the children has forgotten the date.

10. Do have unity, coherence, and organization in all writing.

11. Do use correct sentence beginnings. Unless used in dialogue, certain words are not strong sentence starters. Coordinating conjunctions (such as and, nor, but, or), there, that, and this (unless used as adjectives before a subject) and well should be avoided.

12. Do make all work believable and understandable to the audience (your readers). You need to know to whom you are writing, who will be reading your work.

13. Do use active voice most of the time in writing. Passive voice is to be used seldom and only when it cannot be avoided, because passive voice many times destroys accountability.

In active voice, the subject is doing the acting. "The boy hit the ball."

In passive voice, the subject receives the action. "The ball was hit by the boy."

14. Do use vivid action verbs with few state-of-being verbs.

Example of state-of-being verb usage: Everyone is very happy about the birth of a baby.

Example of action verb: The birth of a baby delights everyone.

15. Do keep verb tenses consistent.

Example of inconsistent verb tense: I wanted to go with him to town, but he wants me to stay home and wash dishes.

Example of consistent verb tense: I wanted to to go with him to town, but he wanted me to stay home and wash dishes.

NOTE: In both sentences, "to" wash is understood.

16. Do write numbers under 100 as words. For journalistic articles only, write numbers under 10 as words.

17. Do reread final copy of material before posting or submitting. If any problems or errors exist, revise and correct.

18. Do practice to improve proofreading skills: read slowly and read aloud; examine each line; be aware of usual errors; check dictionary; have a friend check your writing; read the material backwards to catch spelling errors and see things you might miss because you've read it often.

Tomorrow some Don't's for writing.

I taught English grammar and composition as well as creative writing, newspaper, yearbook, and literary magazine for much of my life. As I taught, I also attended classes, workshops, and clinics dealing with writing, not only to help be a better teacher, but also to hone my own writing skills. I still attend writing conferences and sessions to help me improve.



Rena said...

Great post, Vivian -- thanks.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Wow, that's quite a long list! But nice to see 'Do's' instead of 'Don'ts.'

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

Vivian Zabel said...

Yes, a long list, but many more could be added.

Tomorrow comes some don'ts.

unwriter said...

A lot of terminology. Much of it is just plain common sense. It is nice (it works here), to know the rules and names of the operation. But it is also knowing how to put thoughts into words and sentences.

I can't look at a sentence and tell if it is past perfect, past participle or what. But I know what looks and sounds corect. Maybe I do it wrong, but yet, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing.

It also helps if you know the right usage of a word. A good example is mass versus weight. They are not the same thing.
Good post and very informative.

kai said...

This is great Vivian. Clear, concise and full of info we can't hear enough. Thanks! Can't wait for the don'ts.

Deb Hockenberry said...

Great tips, Vivian! I can't wait to read the rest.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

It's nice to have a reminder of things I know, but sometimes forget or grow careless when using. Thanks.


Penny Ehrenkranz said...

Wow! Great post, Vivian, with a lot of excellent reminders.

Vivian Zabel said...

We all need reminders, even if we know all the tips. However, some people don't know them, maybe never learned them. Others of us become lazy, even some editors. Seeing one of our editors use an incorrect object of a pronoun had me dig these tips out and post.

We all make mistakes.

Janine said...

I'd add another DO:

DO use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It improved my manuscript a TON when I was editing.

Kipp said...

In this age of internet blogging, chatting, and posting, where all rules of grammar (and the ability to spell correctly) have been lost, I appreciate seeing you hold them out for us all to review.