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10 Tips for Better Writing
By: Tim North
As a proofreader of business writing, I see many of the same
errors made again and again. Errors in your writing (be they in
advertising copy, correspondence, or a web site) are more
serious, I believe, than most people realize.
Why? Well, the standard of your writing has always been
important. Today, though, more than ever before, FIRST
IMPRESSIONS COUNT. We are bombarded by the written word in its
many forms -- books, pamphlets, magazines, signs, e-mail, web
sites and many other media.
We are all suffering from information overload and are forced
to find ways of screening out as much as we can. We thus tend
to make quick decisions on what to read and what not to. First
impressions increasingly determine what we read and what we
don't, and poor writing leads to a poor first impression.
The following list of tips should help you to avoid some of
the most common slip-ups.
1. Capitals: Avoid the temptation to capitalize words in the
middle of a sentence Just To Provide Emphasis Like This. If
you want to be more emphatic, consider using bold face,
italics, color or larger text.
2. Commas: The most common use of the comma is to join together
short sentences to make a single longer sentence. We do this
with one of the following small joining words: and, or, but,
yet, for, nor, or so. For example:
We have finished the work, and we are looking forward
to the weekend.
Notice that the two halves of this sentence could each be
sentences in their own right. They thus need to be separated
with a comma and joining word. In the next example, though, we
don't need a comma:
We have finished the work and are looking forward
to the weekend.
The halves of that sentence could not stand alone, so no comma
3. Ellipsis: The ellipsis is a series of three -- and ONLY THREE
-- full stops used to mark missing words, an uncertain pause,
or an abrupt interruption. Avoid the temptation to use six or
seven dots -- it looks amateurish. For example, we write:
Niles: But Miss Fine's age is only ...
Fran: Young! Miss Fine's age is only young!
4. Excessive punctuation: Only one exclamation mark or question
mark should be used at a time. Consider the following
Excessive punctuation looks too much like hysteria and
detracts from your credibility. Avoid it.
5. Headings: For long works, establish a clear hierarchy of
headings. Microsoft Word's heading styles are great for this.
(They also allow you to automatically create a table of
6. Hyphenating prefixes: Most prefixes don't need a hyphen; i.e.
we write "coexist", not "co-exist". There are exceptions,
though. The prefixes "self-" and "ex-" are almost always
7. Numbers: Numbers of ten or less are normally written as words.
8. Quotation marks: Users of American English should use double
quotes (" "). Users of British English should choose either
single quotes (' ') or double quotes and stick with them for
the whole document. Incidentally, British English usage is
increasingly moving towards single quotes.
9. Spaces: Modern style is to use a single space at the end of a
sentence, not two. Also, most punctuation marks (e.g. commas,
full stops, question marks) are not preceded by a space.
10.Tables: Set table text one or two points smaller than the
main body text and in a sans-serif font such as Arial or
Verdana. Avoid vertical lines as they tend to add unnecessary
Armed with these simple guidelines, your writing should be well
received every time. Good luck!
About the Author
You'll find over 200 tips like this in Tim North's much applauded
e-book BETTER WRITING SKILLS. It's just $19.95 and comes with a
90-day, money-back guarantee. Download a sample chapter here: