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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing: It's best to keep the basics in mind — because the basics will always be the best

This will not come as news to those who live to write. But it is clear now that whether you're a journalist or a PR professional, whether you work in corporate communications or in advertising, whether you are self-employed or still a student, the basics of writing good English apply across all sectors and situations.

Take, for example, this insightful article on Forbes.com. Insisting that everyone needs to write intelligently, Helen Coster offers ten tips for better business writing. You will realise, when you read the article, that these tips can help in all kinds of writing.

Almost at the beginning, we learn...

Start by using short, declarative sentences. Never use a long word where a short one will do. (No need to write "utilize" when "use" works just as well.) Be ruthless about self-editing; if you don't need a word, cut it.

There is also some advice that is meant to be applied when writing professional emails but which will also give avid Facebookers pause for thought:

Curb your enthusiasm. Avoid overusing exclamation points, regardless of how energized or friendly you might feel. Choose professional sign-offs like "Best" and "Regards" over the too-cute "xoxo."

Commitscions will surely recall these next few rules from journalism class:

Whenever possible, use active verbs instead of passive verbs. ...

Beware of common grammatical mistakes, like subject-verb agreement. ...

Know when to use "that" and "which." ...

Another common error is confusing "affect" and "effect." ...

And the article ends with the useful recommendation to consult classic books on writing and grammar, such as The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White.

Helen Coster and Forbes have just vindicated my belief that if you want to write well, you should know your basics.