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10 Helpful Writing Tips

  1. Get to the point: Take out any extra words that aren’t necessary for the sentence, and make sure to start your writing with the Five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why). Save space for the good stuff by eliminating extraneous words such as “that,” “in order to,” “really,” and “very,” as well as that second space after a period. The best writing communicates the message in the fewest number of words possible; don’t sacrifice details for the sake of being short, but don’t use more words than you need.
  2. Order is important: If you’re unsure of the correct way to use a word that has different forms, chances are you can use context clues. For example, our everyday style is to use commas the right way every day. Because “everyday” is used before “style” as an adjective, it’s one word. When it’s used as a noun, i.e. where you could use “each day” instead, it’s two. Other examples include “year-end giving” vs. “giving at year end.” This rule also applies to capitalizing titles, i.e. President Kenneth Evans vs. Kenneth Evans, president.
  3. Keep your audience in mind: We wouldn’t write in this style to publish in an academic paper, so don’t write in a formal academic “voice” when your message requires relatability. Ask yourself, “What does my audience need to hear/read? How could I best reach them?” If your meaning isn’t clear, you might lose them. Don’t be afraid to let your humanity show in your communications.
  4. The following words are NOT words: irregardless, supposably, conversate, orientated, acknowledgement or judgement (with “e”), amidst, amongst, besides, connotate, ____. Change to regardless, supposedly, converse, oriented, acknowledgment, judgment, amid, among, beside, connote, ____.
  5. When writing numbers, spell out one through nine, and write 10 through 999,999 in numerals. Then, 1 million, billion, trillion, etc.
  6. “He/she and I” is not always correct: If you are the subject of a sentence, you should reference yourself as “I.” For example, “I am reading this style guide to improve my writing.” This doesn’t change when adding another person, i.e. “David and I are reading this style guide to improve our writing.” If you are the object of the sentence, change you to “me.” The correct usage here: “My boss told me to read this style guide.” This also doesn’t change when adding another person, i.e. “My boss told David and me to read this style guide,” “My boss gave this style guide to me,” or “My boss gave this style guide to David and me.”
  7. TDP: When writing about an upcoming event, it sounds most correct and natural to readers to order the details in time, date, place format, i.e. “The lecture will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Meinders School of Business.” This is the most concise and agreed upon way to communicate information.
  8. Place the subject and verb close together in sentences for optimal understanding, rather than splitting them apart with many prepositional phrases. Place prepositional phrases after the verb when possible. Try to use no more than three to four prepositional phrases per sentence.
    • Not: At the kickoff to the fall semester in classrooms across campus as autumn leaves fell and temperatures dropped, OCU announced a revolutionary approach to education. Change to: OCU announced a revolutionary approach to education as the fall semester began.
  9. Use active verbs. Avoid passive voice, which uses forms of the verb “be,” as in “The Starsky costume is worn by students.” Instead write, “Students audition to serve as OCU’s mascot and wear the Starsky costume during university events.” Rewrite sentences that use “there is” or “there are.” For example, change “There is a wide range of majors offered by OCU” to “OCU offers a wide range of majors.”
  10. Vary sentence and paragraph length and structure for interest, rhythm, and flow.