Writing 101: Style

You can improve your essay’s style by taking two easy actions.

1. Eliminate tics.

A tic is a word, phrase, or construction that you lean on heavily. For example, many writers overuse “as” phrases:

As I exited the classroom I watched in horror as the ramekin containing my chocolate soufflé began to slide…I waited nervously as we were called out for review…I felt a chill go down my spine as my name was called and I found my way to the judge’s table. As I reached the table my instructor said, “this was shocking, I couldn’t believe it,” as she turned over my score sheet with a failing grade.

Most writers have tics. Try to identify yours and revise your essay for variety.

2. Change up the first word of your sentences.

It’s easy to write an essay in which a lot of sentences begin with the same word, especially “this,” “that” or “I.”

That was the beginning of the end.

That was what convinced me to start paying attention.

That was when I realized I wanted to study law.

As with other writing tics, you want to revise until the pattern is no longer noticeable.

Style Myths

There’s a lot of fake news about English usage.

Myth: Don’t split infinitives.

It’s fine to willfully split infinitives. The grammar police won’t arrest you, and no one but an ignorant scold will think less of you.

Myth: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Prepositions at the end of sentences are something that finger-waggers will have to learn to put up with.

Myth: Don’t begin a sentence with “however,” “and,“ or “but.”

It’s fine to begin with “however,” “and,” or “but.” However, you shouldn’t begin with “or.”

Myth: Don’t use the passive voice.

Sometimes a sentence sounds better in the active voice:

Passive: Hundreds of pictures and memories were left behind.

Active: We had to leave behind hundreds of pictures and memories.

However, there’s nothing wrong with the passive voice as a rule.

For a lesson on active and passive voice, see the Purdue OWL.

Myth: Don’t start a sentences with prepositional phrases or “there.”

There are all kinds of experts out there. Some of them claim that sentences beginning with “there” are weak. Others claim that sentences should not begin with prepositional phrases. In both cases I say, Malarkey.

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