TEN TIMELESS TENENTS OF WRITING

Timeless Ten Tenets of Writing

1 CLEAR POINT

Like a pilot, effective writers have a flight plan, a clear central point or claim that unifies their writing and that lets the readers — the passengers — know where they’re headed.  An essay’s thesis is the flight plan, a clear sentence that states the main claim along with a preview of the writer’s reasoning.

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2 LOGICAL ORGANIZATION  

The human brain is a pattern seeking machine, so as you organize your writing, use logical patterns that make your ideas easily digestible.  You will always have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and end. Think about your reader, using transition words as “signposts.” These will help guide your reader through your prose, signaling your thinking and preventing your reader from getting lost.

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3 SHOWING DETAILS

Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The more varied and concrete you can make your evidence, the more persuasive it will be.  Specific facts, statistics, examples, anecdotes, analogies, studies, quotations, and plenty of concrete details all transform your point from a telling statement to a showing, persuasive case that wins over your jury — your readers.

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4 CONCRETE NOUNS

The best way to make sure that you’re doing more showing than telling is to include  plenty of concrete nouns. Remember, a concrete noun names something tangible, something you can drop on your foot. Tell with abstract, general nouns, but show with concrete, specific nouns.

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5 VIVID  VERBS

Verbs are the engines of every sentence.  Active verbs make sentences move, providing action and images that the reader can see (and sometime hear).  Comb your draft to make sure that your verbs give your reader specific, vivid pictures. Favor action verbs (glare, limp, whisper) over state-of-being verbs (is, was, were), and favor active voice over passive voice.

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6 HUMAN INTEREST

Write for a reader not just yourself, a real live human being.  We know that humans are interested in one thing more than anything else and that is other human beings.  The person who said it best was Will Rogers: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but what the fish likes.”

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7 ALTERNATIVE VIEWS

Anticipate what a skeptical reader would say and respond to those objections.  Just as you might include quotations from experts who agree with your position, you should also include voices of people who disagree with your position.  This is an antidote to cherry picking only the evidence that supports your position. It will also help you build credibility with your audience.

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8 VARIED SENTENCES

Good writing has the rhythm and resonance of spoken language.  Writers can’t write exactly like they talk. After all, much of our spoken language relies on nonverbal cues. Writers can, however, imitate one universal trait of spoken language: variety in sentence length – some long, some medium, and some short.  

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9 PARALLEL STRUCTURE

As Lucile Payne says in her book The Lively Art of Writing: “Parallel structure, fully understood and put to use, can bring about such a startling change in composition that student writers sometimes refer to it as ‘instant style.’  It can add new interest, new tone, new and unexpected grace to even the most pedestrian piece of writing.”

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10 CORRECT CONVENTIONS

Effective writers pay attention to detail, eliminating any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, or usage that might cloud their point or distract their readers.

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