Some Picky Writing Tips

Some “Picky” Writing Tips

1. Avoid “I,” particularly in phrases like “I believe”, “I think”, or “I will discuss.”
[Bad] In this paper I will discuss why analog tape is preferable to compact discs for secure storage of back-up files.
[Good] For many reasons analog tape is preferable to compact discs for secure storage of back-up files.

2. Avoid “you.”  Using the second person can be distracting, disorienting, and distressing to the reader; using “you” sounds as if the writer is assuming that the reader is going to do something (or has done something).
[Bad] When you first walk through those prison doors, and hear them slam behind you, a chill shoots through your body.

3. Explicit thesis statements are a good thing. Ending an introductory paragraph with an explicit thesis might seem cliché, but is done for a good reason--there is an expectation among college professors that it will be there. A solid, explicit thesis statement can best be defined as a Specific Opinion about a Limited Subject. It should also be logical, arguable, and clear.
[Bad] Don’t eat ice cream because it’s bad for you.
[Good] Commercially-produced ice cream should be avoided by health-conscious people because the presence of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) in milk used to make commercially-produced ice cream can cause dangerous allergic reactions.

4. Avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. This is not quite a “rule,” just a stylistic preference. Still, it is considered more “graceful” to avoid this. Usually, the worrisome preposition can be eliminated entirely.
[Bad] Tell me where you’re going to. Mom’s very picky about who I go out with.
[Good] Tell me where you’re going. Mom’s picky about who I date.

5. Showing is better than telling. Specific details are one of the hallmarks of good writing. To avoid having papers marked repeatedly with “explain,” “describe” or “tell me more,” illustrate the points you are trying to make as clearly as possible.
     Example: [Bad] Doing the chores by himself made Bill miss Mary.
[Good] Bill collapsed on the bed; after mowing the yard, taking out the trash, loading the dishwasher, cleaning up after a sick cat, and washing the dog (and washing myself in the process), he was exhausted and fully prepared to beg Mary to return.
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