Archive for January, 2012

Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

Most writers experience the struggle of finding the right word, clarifying meaning, or pondering punctuation. That’s just part of writing. One thing that can help get a writer unstuck is to get back to basics. Here are ten quick tips for doing just that–and improving your writing in the process.

  1. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar rules are created to help us communicate. Without them, we would have a hard time understanding each other.
  2. Avoid changing verb tenses in the same paragraph. Thus, if you’re writing in present tense , wait for a new paragraph to change tenses¬† so you don’t confuse your reader.
  3. Understand the difference between plural and possessive. Examples: All of the boy’s toys are put away (singular possessive). All of the boys’ toys are put away (plural possessive). All of the boys had toys (plural, no possessive).
  4. Watch your pronoun-antecedent agreement. What does that mean? It means plural pronouns require plural antecedents (antecedents are nouns the pronouns refer to). In our effort to be politically correct, we’ve ignored this rule to a fault. Good writers don’t take the easy way out–they figure out how to rewrite the sentence to follow the rule. Here’s an example of the easy way out: A successful person is measured by their material wealth. (Antecedent is person, which is singular, and pronoun is their, which is plural.)¬† A good writer will rework the sentence to something like this: Material wealth is often a measure of a person’s success.
  5. Watch your subject-verb agreement. Plural subjects require plural verbs and singular subjects require singular verbs. Example of doing it wrong: One of Kathy’s favorite movies are Sound of Music. The subject (one) is singular, but the verb (are) is plural. Because movies is plural, writers might use a plural verb if they don’t think about the subject of the sentence. The correct way to write that sentence is: One of Kathy’s favorite movies is Sound of Music.
  6. Avoid dangling modifiers. What does that mean? It means make sure your descriptive phrases describe the correct thing. Example of doing it wrong: Searching for the murderer, the suspects all stood in the line-up. (This says the suspects were searching for the murderer.) Rewrite it to say: Searching for the murderer, the police gathered the suspects and stood them in the line-up.
  7. Be aware of language changes. English is a living language. New words are added, while others become antiquated. Stay current.
  8. Know that sometimes perfect grammar doesn’t make for perfect writing. Huh? Depending on what you’re writing, you may be better off with less precise grammar (examples are characters, dialogue, description, tone, etc.).
  9. Make a list of the words that trip you up and keep the list handy. For example, if you’re confused about when to use lay versus lie, make yourself a cheat sheet to help you.
  10. Avoid splitting infinitives. Huh? If you place “to” between an adverb and a verb, you have a split infinitive. Example of split infinitive: Dianne wanted to really make it big as an author. Better to write: Dianne really wanted to make it big as an author.

There you have it. Ten quick tips to improve your writing and some samples to show you how to use the tips.

Happy writing!

Using Other People’s Quotations in Your Book

You can hardly pick up a nonfiction book without seeing a quotation from someone other than the author. Sometimes the quotations are thought-provoking, but sometimes they seem to just fill space.

When should you consider using other people’s quotations in your book? Here are some reasons.

When the quote is familiar to your intended readership and complements your point.
When the person being quoted is highly respected or the name recognizable and the quote complements your point.
When you want to demonstrate to the reader that you are not alone in your opinion/idea/point.
When you want to reinforce or enhance your opinion/idea/point with something profound or poetic.
When you want credibility (by association to someone respected) in your field.

CAUTION! Unless you are writing a quotation book, do not overuse quotes. Too many quotes create the impression your ideas are not your own, but rather the offshoot of thoughts of others.

Also, be aware that you may need permission when quoting another person. How do you know when you need permission? I’m not an attorney, and this falls under legal advice of what constitutes fair use of copyright, but, in general, use of the quotation cannot compromise the originator/owner’s right to profit from it. When in doubt, seek permission or legal counsel.

Using other people’s quotes in your book can add a dimension of credibility to your work, if you use them judiciously.

Happy writing!