Improving Your Writing — Part II

by Eugene E. Dallaire, Asst. Editor; Civil Engineering Magazine, New York, NY 10017,


Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1975, Vol. 45, Issue 4, Pg. 80-85


Document Type: Feature article

Abstract: Whereas Part I on Improving your writing (Jan., '75) talked about how to find something to say, this article (Part II) focuses on how to say it clearly, simply, forcefully. Don't just make generalizations; support them and bring them alive by giving numerous examples, instances, specifics, actual case histories. English has a hierarchy of building blocks: single-syllable word; multi-syllable word; phrase; clause; sentence; paragraph; essay. To improve the clarity and force of writing, use the simplest building block that will do the job. For instance, can that clause be replaced by a single-syllable word? All words in the english language fall into two major groups: content words (stone, run, big, swiftly); and empty words (in, has, because, the, and, to, been, etc.). Use empty words sparingly; they clutter a sentence, add sounds but not meaning, are like noise or static, detracting from the sentence music. Choose concrete words, words that conjure up things you can see, touch, etc. Select lively verbs. Avoid the passive voice. Remember the most important position in the sentence is the end, then the beginning; the middle is less strategic, almost a blur. Thus, where possible, put key words at the end and beginning of sentences.

Subject Headings: Communication | Engineering education | Writing

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