10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them

writing tips
Photo: Wikimedia commons

There are plenty of folks happy to tell you how to write better, just as any doctor will tell you to “eat right and exercise.” But changing your writing (or eating) habits only happens when you understand why you do what you do. I can help you with that.

That proposal or email you wrote must now compete for attention with Facebook and the Huffington Post. Here’s how to compete more effectively, and why you’re not doing it already. (The wall chart for these is at the bottom of the post.)

1 Write shorter.

Why it matters. Readers are impatient and will give up on your blog post, email, or document before you’ve made your point. Every extra word makes readers antsy.

Why you write long. It’s far easier to type than to edit. So people just keep adding things.

How to fix it. Edit. Delete your “warming up” text and start with the main point. Cull extraneous detail and repetition. Work as if each word you eventually publish or send will cost you $10. I’ve often had writers who were outraged that I had redlined two-thirds of what they wrote . . . only to read the shortened doc and respond “that’s so much more powerful.”

2 Shorten your sentences.

Why it matters. Long sentences make readers work too hard to figure out your meaning.

Why your sentences are too long. New ideas keep occurring to you as you write each sentence. And you think long sentences make you sound sophisticated.

How to fix itBreak sentences down into bite-size ideas. Then delete what you don’t need. Think Hemingway, not Dickens.

3 Rewrite passive voice.

Why it matters. Passive voice sentences conceal who is acting and create uneasiness.

Why you write passive. Your writing teachers have trained you to write this way. Also, if you are insecure about what you’re saying, you hide it behind passive wording.

How to fix it. Figure out who the actor in the sentence is and make it the subject. For example this Fortune article says that “New ingredients are steadily being added to the job-matching mix.” Rewrite as “Startup companies keep adding new job-matching techniques.”

4 Eliminate weasel words.

Why it matters. Words like “generally” and “most” make your writing sound weak and equivocal.

Why you use weasel words. You’re afraid of making a bold statement; these words give you an out. When you don’t say anything, you can’t be wrong.

How to fix it. Delete the weasel words, then read the resulting statement. If it’s too bold, write the strongest, clearest statement you can to take its place. (If no bold statement applies, you have nothing to say, so delete the sentence.) For example, this Wall Street Journal native ad piece includes the sentence “Most companies with traditional business models probably have a few radical developers on staff.” Rewrite as “Every company has a radical developer or two.”

5 Replace jargon with clarity.

Why it matters. Jargon makes your reader feel stupid. Unless they’re an insider, they can’t figure out your meaning.

Why you use jargon. You think jargon makes you sound sophisticated. Or you’re hiding the fact that you don’t actually understand what you’re saying.

How to fix it. Imagine you’re talking to your mom (unless your mom is an expert in your subject; if so, imagine you’re talking to your high school history teacher). Explain what you mean in plain English. If using a technical term would actually make things clearer or shorter, define it first. For example, this SAP press release includes the sentence “As the digital transformation revolution reaches maturity, companies have the opportunity to shift business models within their industry disruptively to create new sources of defensible competitive advantage.” Rewrite as “New technology creates new ways to do business.”

6 Cite numbers effectively.

Why it matters. Used properly, statistics can back up your point.

Why you use numbers the wrong way. You think a number — any number — adds credibility. But they’re so easy to misuse.

How to fix it. When citing a statistic, include the context (compared to what?). And statistics shorn of sources are meaningless; “It is estimated that” might as well say “I made this number up.” Here’s a proper way to use a statistic: “Forrester Research estimates that by 2017, 2.4 billion people will own smartphones, or around one third of the world’s population.”

7 Use “I,” “we,” and “you.”

Why it matters. Taken together, these pronouns create a relationship between the writer (“I”), his organization (“we”), and the reader (“you.”)

Why you don’t use these pronouns. It’s scary to talk directly to reader. It sounds informal.

How to fix it. Imagine the reader. Then rewrite using the word “you.” For example, rewrite the Fenway Park rule “No bag or item larger than 16″x16″x8″ will be permitted inside the Park,” as “Security staff won’t let you in the park if your bag is too big.”

8 Move key insights up.

Why it matters. You only have a few sentences to get the reader’s attention. If you boldly state your key point at or near the top, they’ll stick around to see if you can prove it.

Why your insights are buried. We were all taught to write deductively: first this, then that, then this, therefore conclusion. Also, you’re afraid of scaring people away with a bold opening statement.

How to fix it. Force yourself to start with a bold statement. If you just can’t get in this habit, write whatever you need to warm up to stating your thesis, then delete the warmup. Once you’ve finished the piece and realize what you really meant to say, rewrite the bold statement. Each time you rewrite, rewrite the opener.

9 Cite examples.

Why it matters. Text without examples is dull and not credible. Text with examples comes alive.

Why you lack examples. Examples come from research, which is work. They make you pause and think as you’re writing, which slows you down.

How to fix it. For a piece of any length, plan to spend half the writing time doing research first. If you can’t get an actual example, use a hypothetical. If possible, cite a person who did something, not just a company.

10 Give us some signposts.

Why it matters. If you’re writing anything longer than a page, people want to know what they’re in for.

Why you lack signposts. You’re afraid of sounding pedantic. Worse yet, if your writing isn’t well-organized, then you can’t explain the structure.

How to fix it. After you’ve stated your main thesis, write this: “Here’s how I’ll explain this.” Then include a few short sentences or a numbered list. It’s that easy!


Need more help than this?

I’m here for you:

  • Workshops: I can teach clear writing to your department or company.
  • Help with books: book proposals and editing.
  • Editing: I can help clarify your ideas and how you express them — and make you a smarter writer.

Or take a shortcut: just buy Writing Without Bullshit, the book these tips come from.


For more insights like this, follow me on twitter, read the posts below, or scroll down to sign up for daily writing tips with extra snark.

Here’s a wall chart for you. Print it out and hang it by the place where you write. Thanks to Jeremiah Owyang for suggesting this post.

Writing Tips 0504


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. This is great. I’d carve it in stone and place this on the side of Highway 101 if I could carve and could afford a big enough stone. Printing this out and pinning it to my cube wall instead.

  2. Hemingway was the undisputed KING of the run-on sentence. Your example was misplaced. Go read, “The Sun Also Rises” and check back.

      1. I may be biased, but I think Austen. Talk about economy – every word carefully chosen, and put exactly where needed. Although 200 years later, readers see her language as full of the “jargon” of antiquated formality.

    1. Hemingway was the king of the run-on sentence? You must be referring to some other Hemingway, because it’s not Ernest.

    2. As much as the BACC seem to spend their time being wilfully obstructive, there’s surely a major difference here, which is that between ‘art’ and ‘advertising.’ Sex/violence etc may be essential to a narrative, but never an ad.

    3. that two months out is still really soon to be beating yourself up at all or even worrying. You’re exhausted!! Give yourself time to both heal (physically) and to enjoy the newborn time that goes so fast. I’m trying to balance “What’s the rush?” with “It’s okay to take time for the writing.” Both are important messages to tell yourself.Congrats on the new baby by the way! Did you ever announce the name?

    1. And to Tim, Hemingway’s style is real. Maybe not as pervasive as some think, but real.

      “A doctor came in followed by a nurse. He held something in his two hands that looked like a freshly skinned rabbit and hurried across the corridor with it and in through another door. I went down to the door he had gone into and found them in the room doing things to a new-born child. The doctor held him up for me to see. He held him by the heels and slapped him.”

    2. And Dickens is laughing : ) Great advice for commercial writing, not so much for novels- as the novels of today need more romance and vocabulary. When your piers insist you shouldn’t use “big” words because the readership won’t understand them, it’s time to use many, many more! (I’d give examples, but that would lengthen my response : )

      1. I don’t write advice for fiction writers. Their job is to entertain; my readers’ job is to persuade or inform. That said, there are principles that apply across both domains . . .

        1. James Patterson is a bestselling author of commercial fiction. He uses enough words to tell a story without being superfluous. There is something to be said about using only the necessary words – fiction and non-fiction. As a reader, I put a novel down if I can’t get past the first paragraph effortlessly. If the first paragraph is difficult to read and understand, rest assured the rest of the book will be the same.

      2. This is where I think things get lost. I work with a lot of fiction writers these days, and so many of them are trying to “romance” the language, to the point where it’s ridiculous.
        The point here is valid for fiction and non-fiction alike. If you’re writing for entertainment purposes, if you’re trying to engage a reader, you have to know your ability and your projected audience. Now, some people are able to write literature that will land itself in collegiate curriculum… But the percentage of authors that are capable of effectively using vocabulary and nuanced language on such a level is rather low, comparatively.

        As an editor, I advise my clients, use the language and vocabulary that is natural to you. Don’t reach and insist yourself into words and phrasing that doesn’t actually work for you under the guise of trying to be artistic. Your readers are far more likely to connect with simple and beautiful language, than something you pulled out trying to sound impressive.

        1. Yes, this comment is spot-on. It’s really obvious when a writer uses “big” words for their own sake. No matter what style of writing, you should use the word that best conveys what you’re trying to say, and you make that decision based on the rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, genre, etc.)

      3. Actually, this is pretty good advice for fiction writers too. Economy of language is very important in fiction. Florid, bloated language does not make for a good reading experience. I have read thousands of story submissions as an editor of literary magazines and contests, most of which I rejected on the grounds that the writer did not get to the point.

      1. It’s not even specific to business writing. The general consensus in grammar realms these days is that there’s nothing essentially wrong with conjunctions as sentence starters.

  3. It depends what you’re writing. A novel? A poem? A technical manual? Investigative journalism?

    1. I’m writing about non-fiction that’s designed to persuade or inform, not just entertain. That includes tech manuals and investigative journalism, but not poems and novels.

    2. Obviously some of these rules don’t apply to fiction and poetry writing. However, many of them are just as poignant, regardless of the genre.

        1. It may be intended only for non-fiction writers, but it doesn’t make the advice completely non-applicable to fiction writers. I’ll agree that fiction is a little more flexible, though. With fiction writing, the question becomes, is this artistically or stylistically relevant, or is it just shite writing?

          My point was mostly to say that, you shouldn’t dismiss it at face-value simply because of the intention. Musing on it doesn’t hurt.

        2. Fiction writers create worlds that must have internal consistency. If they lie, that fictional world crumbles. If they try to use bullshit, their reader will turn away in disgust – nobody likes a made-up world that doesn’t make sense.

          On the other hand, if you’re writing a “non-fiction” book, you’re readers are already predisposed to believe everything you say. Even if it’s an outlandish fabrication, just make up some statistics or studies that seems to prove what you’re saying, and your readers will eat it up.

          In short – truth is important in fiction. Bullshit lives in the world of non-fiction.

  4. The author would have Shakespeare rewrite, “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” The “improved” version would make the same query, but thus: “Be?”

  5. I disagree with number 4; absolute statements ALWAYS alienate readers because they can come up with exceptions to your emphatic statements (Do you see what I did there?)

    1. That was my reaction too.

      Better suggestion for the audience: “Eliminate all weasel words that aren’t necessary. Better yet, reword your sentence or paragraph so that you get across the point without needing to use them.” Now I need an example, but I’m too lazy 😉

      Bold statements are great, but if they don’t apply across the board then why proclaim that they do?

      1. And I should add, other than that minor point, I agree that this article is excellent. While I’ve known these tips, the article and chart are great for reinforcing the practices.

  6. When I first entered the business world I wondered why some people on my team routinely got what they wanted from my manager while others didn’t. I knew he was a very impartial guy so I really questioned it. I realized quickly that my problem was that my emails were too wordy, my main points were buried, and I used weasely language to ask for what I really wanted because I was afraid of rejection.

    This would have saved me a lot of time & effort of figuring all that out on my own! Glad to have it so I can pass it on to others now. Thank you!

  7. “Write in the passive voice” said no writing teacher, ever. It stumps me why you’d think that for even a second.

      1. The disdain of passive voice is puzzling to me. It conflicts with the short-and-sweet mantra; you find writers needlessly transmuting fine statements like “Steve was astounded.” to “A wave of astonishment hit Steve, his emotions a tsunami of — ” and so on.

        That’s probably something which falls under the rule of foolish consistency, and I’m invoking hyperbole, but I think the point is clear.

        1. I have a real and powerful reason to disdain the passive voice: people use it to hide the truth. If you don’t know who’s acting, you don’t know the truth.

          “Steve was astounded” is not passive voice, because “astounded” is an adjective. If you said “Steve was fired,” that’s passive voice, and begs the question of who fired him. “The first sentence hides nothing; the second hides the person who performed the action.

          The other challenge with passive voice is it gives the reader and uneasy feeling that stuff is happening without knowing why or how or who. You are left not knowing what to do about what you read. And that’s a key marker of failed writing.

          1. I don’t want to seem overly concerned about this, but I just don’t buy this as a rule because there will always be times when the object is stressed rathet than the action. “The beverage was chilled before serving.” or “My dad was killed in the war.” Attempts to fenagle these sentences just leave the text reading like it was edited by Yoda. Stand for it, I won’t! 😀

          2. There are certainly situations where the passive voice makes sense. Maybe 5% of what people write in passive, should stay passive.

            I’m trying to raise awareness. Most passive voice is unconscious, poor communication. If every time a person wrote a passive sentence, they asked themselves “would this be better if I wrote about the actor as the subject?”, then the writing would be far better (and they could leave the 5% unchanged).

            And frankly, “The waiter chilled the beverage before serving.” and “The Nazis killed my father” might be better sentences, depending on the context.

        2. I was forbidden by a college English professor from writing in the passive voice for a whole semester. She just wanted me to be conscious of when I used it. I write for nonprofits now, and we fall into weak language and passive voice too often, watering down our message, so I get why this matters.

  8. Love this. I coach doctoral students working on large research papers and dissertations. Your list – and the handy graph – is a Godsend. However, #7 – “use ‘I,’ ‘we,’ and ‘you'” – is a no-no in my world. Is there a place for #7 in scholarly writing?

      1. I’m a college writing instructor; I agree almost entirely with this list. My only quibble is that you might want to consider audience and context. This writing advice is perfect for the business world, and for internet writing.

        Most of your advice is applicable to academic writing, too. However, that audience will demand some exceptions. For example, the trend in academic writing is to embrace “I” — but not in “I think” constructions. And “you” remains universally troublesome among academic audiences.

        The unwritten rule beneath all these rules should be “know your audience.” That will tell you when to fight battles like “you/we/I,” and when not to.

        1. Excellent point! One of the reasons that the “I think” construction is problematic for academic audiences is that it functions as a “weasel word” to an audience expecting a direct claim, rather than an opinion. Know Thy Audience, should be the golden rule in any writing. Communication, in whatever form, should consider both the communicator and the recipient of the message.

  9. Drop ‘weasel’ words and make bold statements? Or are they broad assumptions? How do you know that every company has at least one or two radical developers? Well, as long as you have the facts to back up those bold statements.

  10. I am a community college writing teacher. Like most of my colleagues, I have never taught students to use passive voice (unless the doer of the action is unimportant: “My house was painted today.”) I agree with most of these suggestions except for using “you.” It should be reserved for how-to pieces. Thanks for the post-

  11. Brilliant, thanks.
    One suggestion – in 9 Cite Examples, you say:
    “How to fix it. For a piece of any length, plan to spend half the writing time doing research first.”
    I always recommend that students start writing first – you don’t really know what to research until you have started writing. The old ‘research first/write up later’ scheme is a recipe for wasting the first half of the time.
    For your purposes I’d just ditch the over-determined direction ‘first’ and let them decide what’s the best time for them to research.

      1. I find it productive to write a short piece (1/2-1 page) to get a grasp on what you already know and what you seek to know. Little of the text will make it to the final draft, but the pre-writing won’t waste too much time. It may give the writer a way to clear his head before delving into research.

        But if I have more time, I try to do all the research first. Researching, along with casual pondering, can lead to great, surprising ideas. But these ideas are often found at unexpected times (like while showering). If I have a long time to write a piece, I find it more helpful to explore a general topic than to aim towards something specific.

        Basically, I write first when I am short on time, but I research first when I have longer.

  12. I agree with #7 but not the example: citing the exact dimensions is helpful because “too large” is vague. The link’s rewrite is better but if they say “Security Staff” then only “Security Staff” can reject or remove people; not ushers, section supervisors, or other staff.

  13. Yes to all but 2. The Hemingway advice is good, but he wrote sentences averaging 28 words (Francis Christensen did the study back in the 60s). That means for every three-word sentence he wrote, he also wrote a 53-word sentence. It’s not how many words the sentence has; it’s how they’re put together. The only other advice I give is: start your sentences with the subject followed immediately by the main verb, then add your modifying information afterwards. This gives your reader immediate context for all the refining, more specific information. It’s called backward modification, and it works.

    1. Didn’t Hemingway win a wager once about writing the shortest possible story?

      For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.

  14. Point 1 is Funny because when I first started everybody told me I should write longer articles, but you are right readers became more and more impatient so I guess it’s good to keep it short. Thanks for sharing !

  15. “Forrester Research estimates that by 2017, 2.4 billion people will own smartphones, or around one third of the world’s population.” This makes it sound as if 2.4 billion people will own one third of the world’s population. While most people will infer what you meant anyway, I would prefer that the sentence be constructed properly.

    1. I had an instructor that made his point with this joke, and it’s still stuck in my head.

      As a programmer left for the grocery store, his wife told him,
      “Get a gallon of milk, and if they have eggs, get two dozen.”
      Much to her surprise, he returned with 25 gallons of milk.

  16. For a struggling writer like me, this article and the discussions about it are so helpful and enlightening. Indeed, non fiction writing should always be clear, concise, convincing, coherent, and complete. Thank you, Josh Bernoff.

  17. If you enjoyed this article and want a deeper look on writing well, you can read the book “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.

  18. This advice will depend on what you’re writing. I doubt that the author has ever tried conveying philosophical ideas!

    If you’re trying to convey certain ideas, it is not a good idea to make it short. You have to lead them by the hand. Even then they inevitably fail to understand. Of course they might not be reading it because it is too long. But making it shorter will definitely not facilitate understanding.

    Short sentences are a good idea. As is avoiding Jargon.

  19. Very insightful rules for budding and established writers. I would like to know how best to go about researching on and for a topic as I sometimes finds phase overwhelming.

  20. Josh,

    Excellent article. I enjoyed your writing while you were with Forrester. I feel most people enjoy rambling away, in person or on paper, which leads to poor writing. Again, well done!

  21. Excellent list, full of great advice.

    (although, ironically, #9 “Use examples” is one of the only points where you don’t then give an example!)

  22. These are all pretty good, except for 3, 4 and 5.

    3 Rewrite passive voice. – Not always. Passive voice has its uses, such as when the person performing the action is unknown, or when softening the impact of your words is actually desirable.
    4 Eliminate weasel words. – Reduce perhaps, but don’t eliminate. The world is not a simple place. Going around making unqualified generalisations can make you seem ignorant and over-confident. It will also get people thinking about exceptions to your rule rather than the general rule itself. Intelligent and educated people are naturally wary of anyone making sweeping statements.
    5 Replace jargon with clarity. – This depends on your audience of course. If you are writing for a specific field, using universally understood jargon will require far fewer words than explaining everything so you mum can understand it.

  23. Got here by way of Jay Bauer. Your advice impinges like one’s first puff on a Kool non filter.

    One comment on the above. You mention:

    “Most companies with traditional business models probably have a few radical developers on staff.” Rewrite as “Every company has a radical developer or two.”

    The rewrite seems to go too far.

    I understand that “most” is a weasle word, but if the facts only support “most” companies “probably have” a radical developer or two — then it’s not “every” company “has” a radical developer or two.

    Willing to compromise that “most” is often a weasle word but sometimes just states the case?

    1. There’s always a way to eliminate the weasel word. If it’s not all companies, say something like “At any company that’s not completely locked down” or “At every company I’ve ever encountered.” The minute you say “most” the sentence becomes meaningless.

      1. “If it’s not all companies, say something like ‘At any company that’s not completely locked down'”

        Sure, but then you’re just sacrificing your brevity rule; you just replaced one word with six.

        “The minute you say ‘most’ the sentence becomes meaningless.”

        I do not think “meaningless” means what you think it means. /Inigo 😉

  24. Very enlightening facts, yet in writing there are certain things to be considered like avoiding unique uncommon words and use simple plain words instead. Readers don’t want to spend their entire time relying on dictionary.

  25. Great stuff. My college freshman ask me for my best writing tips. I passed on my best writing advice. But I also sent him a link to this site.

  26. Not bad, but, “New ingredients are steadily being added to the job-matching mix.” Rewrite as “Startup companies keep adding new job-matching techniques.” Both are gobbled-gook, “Recruiters look for new skills” is simpler and tells the story.
    And 5, you wrote, “New technology creates new ways to do business.” Really? ‘New’ twice in the same sentence? Dreadful writing, perhaps try, “Business innovation thrives with new technology.” Still not exciting but better.
    I clicked because I was interested in the table, but the content dissuaded me. I would, however, like to read more, if its clear and less self-important.

    1. In an effort to simplify, don’t forget to retain the original meaning. “Recruiters look for new skills” wasn’t the point of the article – recruiters have always looked for the latest skills. The point was that a new crop of recruiters are innovating techniques to match companies and workers. For example, matching jobs to workers, not workers to jobs.

  27. I’m not sure why 2.4 billion people will own either smartphones or a third of the world’s population. Is Samsung invading the Confederacy?

  28. So VERY glad you included in your list the need to back up statistics with context and sources. A lot of journalists and other writers are sloppy about that, if not intentionally misleading.

  29. These are wonderful tips. I agree that I am committing few of the mistakes.

    But I have on query. For SEO we need to write detailed and long article, but for readers we need to make it crisp and shorter.

    What shall we do? Shall we create lengthy and detailed articles or write shorter articles for readers?

  30. I like most of this advice, but I have a huge problem with number 4. The trouble with eliminating what you term “weasel words” is that it’s an excellent way to convert a true, or at least defensible, statistical statement into a categorical statement that can be proven false by the identification of a single counterexample. To advocate in favor of the tragic cognitive error of categorical thinking in a probabilistic world is an awfully ironic position to take on a blog with the title “Without Bullshit.”

  31. I think using “I think” reminds the writer that most of what he or she thinks are facts are actually opinions.

  32. just the best info about creating powerful writing ever.

    read Bird by Bird from Anne Lamott
    read Zen of Writing by Ray Bradbury
    read On Writing by Stephen King
    ALL WONDERFUL inspiring books to read over and over

    but, THIS COOL ARTICLE rules
    most useful info I’ve read all in one place
    succinct and RIGHT ON
    thanks for this
    want to create big walls of cardboard for this
    movable walls to take with me to EVERY ROOM IN MY ENTIRE HOUSE.


  33. It would be more effective if you used correct grammar and showed that you could write. “Write shorter” and “Write passive” are incorrect.

    1. I guess you think this post smells terribly and that makes me feel badly.

      Look, as far as adverbs and adjectives are concerned, things aren’t always as they seem. See pages 201-203 of Steven Pinker’s excellent book “The Sense of Style.” The verb “write”, like “think” can take an adjectival complement which refers to the nature of the writing. “Write slow” is wrong, since it describes the act of writing, not what’s written. But “write passive” and “write short” refer to what’s written, not how it is written.

      That’s why Apple can tell you to “Think Different.” That may grate on your ears, but Pinker says it’s correct (and not the same as “Think Differently”).

      See also Roy Peter Clark’s excellent book “How to Write Short.”

  34. I agree. Dickens was a terrible, highly unsuccessful writer. Nobody wanted to read his work because it had too many words. He hardly sold any books at all and is totally forgotten today.

  35. I am a professional advertising/marketing copywriter, and I think I love you! Where have you been hiding from me all these years? I’m giving a presentation next week on my company’s marketing messages and will be covering this exact topic–and making many of the same points. Nice to discover a “kindred spirit.”

  36. Very good and valid points. I would add nr. 11: when you’re writing for an international audience, keep your vocabulary and grammar in check. Imagine your reader is an aircraft mechanic in China, Africa, Brazil or somewhere else, and your survival depends on this person really getting what you mean!

  37. Congratulations – you’ve just okayed sentence fragments (Break sentences down into bite-size ideas. Then delete what you don’t need).

      1. “Then delete what you don’t need” is a sentence fragment. It’s a subordinate clause that depends on “Break sentences down into bite-size ideas” (as indicated by “Then”) to make sense. If you were to read it on its own, it would be vague.

        1. “‘Then delete what you don’t need’ is a sentence fragment.”

          It isn’t, in fact. Your sin here is not being pedantic, but being wrong.

          “If you were to read it on its own, it would be vague.”

          That’s nice, but being “vague” is not what makes a clause dependent or not. Otherwise the second sentence here would be a fragment: “John is tall. He is also handsome.” If read on its own, it would be vague, because we don’t know who “he” refers to.

          lol @ “smarter than you.”

  38. Great tips! I would add “define your acronyms”. Especially if you intend to reach audiences whose first language is not English.

    1. MS Word also has a setting that erroneously suggests “you’re” in place of “your”. Remember that this is the same corporation that gave us Clippy.

  39. Thanks for the great post, Josh! I particularly appreciate the wall chart, which I share with my students.

    Can you add the “For the context behind this table, see wobs.co/……” line in the wall chart, like you have done for the Write Shorter wall chart? I know some students will want to read the full blog.

  40. If writing a technical paper (research paper, thesis or dissertation), using the first and second person will dilute the sense of objectivity, therefore, it shouldn’t be used.
    Since the objective of a technical paper is is to find the truth behind the facts amidst all the misconceptions, falsehoods, lies and illusions, using “you” and “I/me” will lead someone to the subjective realm, when the paper was meant to go to the objective realm. We look for absolute, objective and verifiable truths in these cases or look for some things that can be true for a particular case and time/era.

    1. Use “we” then, to reflect what the research team did. Using passive voice to avoid identifying whose opinions and work we are reading about doesn’t eliminate bias, it just conceals it.

      1. Still, using “we/us” shows a bias. It can also be patronizing, especially if the reader will disagree with the findings.

  41. Great stuff. One suggestion: in #7, your suggested replacement leaves out important information from the original. Perhaps better is: Security staff won’t let you in the park if your bag is larger than 16″x16″x8″.

  42. Love it! shared it with my team.
    Little nitpicking comment: I loved the ability to print out the cheat sheet after reading and hang it by my computer; the last cell (how to fix point 10) repeats the one above it, can it be fixed?

    1. Thanks for spotting the error. My graphic designer miscopied that cell when he created the newly designed version for me. I’ve now replaced it with the correct graphic.

  43. Your suggestion to eliminate jargon by “Imagining you’re talking to your mom…” and “Explaining what you mean in plain English” is unbelievably insulting. You are implying that moms only understand plain English. I’m inclined to disregard any of your other BS tips.

  44. Great post. I especially liked # 6 given that I have seen how some writers are quite careless about this extremely crucial matter. As writers it is necessary for us to be as accurate and credible as possible, and mentioning the sources is something that can’t be ignored at any cost.

  45. Wow. What an article. I am highly impressed. 🙂 I would urge my fellow readers to also read an article on some easy to follow tips for becoming a good writer – http://bit.ly/2c9vlAF

    Another interesting read which I would like my writer friends is this article that tells about how can one improve his/her proofreading skills – http://bit.ly/2cmmklk

    I hope my readers like them.
    Looking forward to some positive response.


    1. Namaste Manuji

      Sadly you are not one of the many Indians whose command of the English language puts us native speakers to shame, but props for putting yourself out there.

      I almost suspect a lengthy leg-pull, when you have an article about proof-reading littered with punctuation and grammatical errors, the most glaring being innumerable examples of the greengrocer’s apostrophe. http://www.kudelka.com.au/tag/apostrophes/

      1. Thanks a lot sir for notifying.
        Second of all, the article that you speak of is not written by me, but a good friend of mine. So, I will let her know about the mistakes.

  46. This has been so helpful whilst re reading my final essay for this year. The part about the flow of an essay was particularly useful as I realised mine didn’t until I read through your advice. Thank you!

  47. Language is beautiful, why destroy it with tweet size statements?

    If somebody is offended by ignorance,… it is time to start using the language as it was developed by humans. It took centuries to develop it why destroy it in one generation.

    With the problems that humanity faces today, we need to communicate and the language was developed to communicate.

    Probably you’ll notice that English is not my first language but what people do that with the language is a killing it.

    Soon nobody will understand Inglish or another language if we continue to chop it.

    And by the way, Hemingway and Dickens, they both used the language. They used it as they pleased…. It wasn’t that bad.