Good Style: A Few Hints

  • Whenever possible, use verbs – change nouns into verbs to express action! (“We had a discussion about...” > “We discussed whether...”
  • Avoid passive forms use the active voice! (“Your paper will be corrected next week” > “We will correct your paper next week”)
  • Focus on people and other agents! (“Procrastination is a common problem among highschool students” > “Highschool students tend to procrastinate.”)
  • Vary your sentences to avoid monotony!
  • If your text consists of too many short sentences, try combining them (“He entered the classroom. Then, he noticed a student was absent.” > “Having entered the classroom, he noticed a student was absent.”)
  • Don’t overuse “and” as a connecting phrase!
  • Write concisely! Eliminate words you don’t need!
  • Make sure you don’t use too many sub-clauses in one sentence!
  • Show the reader that you are personally interested in getting the message across!
  • Avoid redundancy – whatever you have to say, say it only once per paragraph!
  • Eliminate legalese and bureaucratic forms!
  • Modify your statements by choosing the right adjective or verb, not by using empty intensifiers like “absolutely”, “really”, “very”, “definitely”, or “particularly”!
  • Avoid wordy phrases! (“I hold the opinion that” > “I believe”, or “She has the ability to” > “She can”)
  • Use positive forms to avoid the double negative! (“It’s not uncommon” > “It’s common”)
  • Put the main clause first and let the details follow!
  • Put your main ideas in main clauses!
  • Put the important ideas in the beginning and end of your sentences!
  • Connect your ideas by referring to them in subsequent sentences – linking them from front to front or from back to front! (“Teachers often underestimate how much work is waiting for them. This kind of work...”)
  • Use parallel structures to compare two concepts! (“Teachers love to ask questions, but students usually hate answering them.”)
  • Use lists to structure your material! (“We need to address three aspects. First, ...”)
  • Try not to sound too informal – avoid colloquialisms and slang (“ain’t”, “gotta”, “wanna”).
  • Use the pronoun “I” only if it is absolutely necessary!
  • Be aware of the negative or positive connotations a word may have! (“This is all wrong.” > “This is not exactly true.”)
  • Be precise! (“The aspect of liberty in the American value system is of great importance.” > “Liberty is a core value in American society.”)
  • Use imagery effectively! (“The atmosphere among the teachers was not very good, and the principal seemed to be a really bad bully.” > “The staffroom was a real swamp and the principal proved to be the alligator.”)
  • Avoid linguistic clichés! (“At the end of the day, he’s not such a bad teacher.”
  • Be cautious not to fall for stereotypes! Also, don’t insult your readers and address people the way they prefer to be called! (“Asians” > “Indian Americans”)
  • Avoid referring to what’s normal – other people might feel offended. Avoid exclusive nouns (“chairman” > “chairperson”) and be inclusive towards people with disabilities (“an epileptic” > “a person who is epileptic”), persons of different ages (“an elderly lady“ > “an 85-year-old lady”), people of different social status (“lower class” > “working class”), people of different religions and cultural backgrounds.

Further Recommendations for Good Essay Writing

  • Find an appropriate way to begin: explicit and implicit announcement, immediate or delayed announcements, limiting the subject, indicating the plan of the essay.
  • Try to interest the reader by arousing curiosity, surprise or amusement.
  • Make your title informative, concise and easy to remember.
  • The title should be the last thing you write down.
  • Avoid meaningless strings of words.
  • Use transitions: repetition of keywords, question-and-answer technique, summarizing transition, logical transition (therefore, consequently, thus).
  • Use an appropriate and consistent point of view – personal or impersonal.
  • Use the appropriate tone towards the subject, towards the reader and towards yourself.
  • Close your text in an appropriate way by using terminal words (Iastly, finally, in conclusion), by coming back to the initial question, by rhythmic variation, by reaching the natural point of closing, by summation and conclusion.
  • Establish paragraph unity: check for relevance, order of thought, paragraph flow.
  • In the introduction, set up a master plan your essay (first, second, third).
  • Link successive sentences by repeating key words, conjunctive adverbs (above, below, presently, meanwhile, afterwards, therefore, however), syntactic patterning (repeating the same basic structure).
  • Illustrate your paragraph by using examples (for example, for instance, as a case in point).
  • Restate the paragraph by simple repetition, negative-positive statements or specification.
  • Develop your paragraph effectively, using analogy, comparison and contrast.
  • Establish a cause and let effects follow.
  • Define relevant terms by genus-species relation, synonyms, illustration, metaphor or simile, by negatives or by pair, by etymology, semantic history and field definition.
  • Qualify your statements by subordinating the qualification, placing the qualification first and then winding up on the main point, by using qualifying words or phrases.
  • Be economical; try to use short constructions (participles) and avoid adjectives.
  • Be as specific as you can. Find the best word. NOT: “flower”, BUT: “daffodil” or “daisy” (or whatever)
  • Keep prepositions and conjunctions brief: “to”, NOT: “in order to”
  • Don’t define what is common knowledge. Ask yourself whether the definition is needed by the reader you have I mind.
  • Don’t spell out what is clearly implied. WRONG: “Her dress was blue in color.”
  • Avoid empty redundancy: “modern life of today
  • Don’t open up paragraphs you will not develop. “The people come to the new world for freedom of several kinds, ad had found injustice instead.”
  • Avoid the distinction without a difference: “Under the honor system, teachers do ot have to stand guard during exams, tests, ad quizzes.”
  • Don’t overqualify. AVOID “seem”, “tend”, “maybe”, “is said to be”, “somewhat”, “would be”
  • Metaphors and similes should be fresh and original. Avoid clichés!
  • The vehicle (the image) should fit the tenor (what you want to say).
  • Metaphors and similes should be appropriate to the context.
  • Metaphors and similes should ot be awkwardly mixed.
  • Metaphors and similes should not be overworked.
  • Allusions should be appropriate to your point and within the experience of your readers.
  • Be clear about irony. If needed, use signals of irony.
  • Be careful with overstatement, understatement, ad puns.
  • Use dictionaries to improve your style!
  • Use various types of sentences!
  1. the freight-train style (First … , then, … afterwards, …)
  2. triadic sentences (composed in three units)
  3. cumulative sentences (initial independent clause followed by subordinate clauses)
  4. parallel style (two or more words or constructions are the same: A, B, C, A, B, C)
  5. balanced sentence (two parts roughly equivalent in both length and equivalence, divided by a pause)
  6. fragments
  7. loose structure (the main clause comes first ad is followed by subordinate clauses)
  8. periodic structure (the subordinate constructions precede the main clause)
  9. convoluted structure (the main clause is split in two, opening and closing the sentence)
  10. centered structure (the main clause occupies the middle of the sentence)
  • Do not waste the main elements of the sentence! NOT “The fact of the war had the effect of causing many changes.” BUT “The war caused many changes.”
  • Express modifiers in the fewest possible words: NOT “In an unnatural way” BUT “unnaturally”
  • Use participles instead of subordinate clauses and relative clauses. NOT: “While he walked down the lane, …” BUT “Walking down the lane, …”
  • Use predicate adjectives: NOT “The day was a perfect one” BUT “The day was perfect.”
  • Use colon (:) or dash (-) for announcement.
  • Use ellipses: NOT “When you are late, …” BUT “When late, …”
  • Use parallelism: “The beginner must work more slowly, and he must work more consciously.” BUT “The beginner must work more slowly and more consciously.”
  • Use emphatic sentences like announcements, fragments, short sentences, imperatives, inverted sentences, periodic sentences, rhetorical questions, negative-positive restatements, rhythm, rhyme.
  • To emphasize something within a sentence,
  1. use modifiers (greatly, extremely, awfully),
  2.  isolation (word is cut off by punctuation),
  3. change in position (end or front of the sentence),
  4. balance (two sentences divided by a pause),
  5. polysyndeton (and … and …),
  6. asyndeton (, … , …),
  7. repetition in meaning (tautology, synonymy),
  8. repetition of words, and mechanical emphasis (layout, italicized words, bold print).
  • Make effective use of meaningful rhythm, mimetic rhythm, metrical runs, rhythmic breaks, rhyme.
  • Use variety: vary sentence length, sentence pattern, fragments ad complete sentences, openings.
  • Use abstract words only if appropriate.
  • Avoid ambiguity (words or constructions with several meanings).
  • Avoid connotations that work against the context.
  • Avoid barbarisms (wrong constructions).
  • Check your idioms, collocations and phrasal verbs.
  • Avoid colloquialisms and slang (informal expressions).
  • Avoid pretentious diction (using big words to no purpose).
  • Avoid clichés (trite and overused expressions).
  • Avoid jargon (misused technical language).
  • Avoid mixed metaphors (“the fingertips of our eyeballs”) and inappropriate figures of speech.
  • Avoid false hyperboles.
  • Avoid repetitiousness.
  • Avoid awkward sounds (unwanted rhyme).