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Writing tips
Writing tips

Writing tips

If you can't afford an editor, you can still improve your writing by following a few simple rules:


Think clearly. Clear thought is an essential first step to clear prose.

Where possible, use short, simple words.
Short, familiar words are often more precise than longer ones. Not many readers will be impressed by big words that take up a lot of space but don't say much.  

Use short sentences.
Try to have just one main idea in each sentence. According to Albert Joseph (author of Put It in Writing! -- see below) good writing almost always averages between 15 and 20 words per sentence. But make sure there is some variety in the length of your sentences or your writing will become monotonous.

Where possible, use the active rather than the passive voice. For example, write "I checked the results" rather than "the results were checked". Sentences written in the active voice are usually more direct and more interesting. However, some examiners, particularly in the physical sciences, prefer the passive voice.

Use talking as a guide for writing.
Many people can explain something fluently in conversation, but when they express the same thing on paper, their words become stilted and unnecessarily complex. Of course formal writing needs to be more considered and precise than ordinary conversation, but you can use the way you talk as the basis for your writing.

Check your work carefully. Revise for expression, not just content. The meaning of your sentences may be clear to you, but try to see them from the point of view of the reader. And once you've revised your work, check it again. 

Here are some books on non-fiction writing that I recommend:

Put it in Writing! by Albert Joseph, published by McGraw Hill, 1998. The most accessible book I've read on how to write clearly and quickly. The advice on structure may not be appropriate for academic writing.

The Elements of Style,  by William Strunk and E. B. White. Published by Longman 2000 (4th edition). Direct, concise advice on how to be direct and concise. First published in 1959, and one of the most influential books on how to write.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Published by Collins, 2006 (6th edition).
The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, by Michael Harvey. Published by Hackett, 2003. Good advice on clarity and structure.

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Muphry's law

Muphry's Law is an adage that states that "if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written".  

John Bangsund of the Victorian Society of Editors (Australia) identified Muphry's Law as "the editorial application of the better-known Murphy's Law" and set it down in 1992 in the Society of Editors Newsletter.  

The law, as set out by Bangsund, states that:
(a) if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
(b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
(c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and  (b), the greater the fault;
(d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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