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Writer's Notes - By Jeanne Dininni

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Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom tells us much about what constitutes "good," or "quality" writing. But, is conventional wisdom always right?

The Conventional Principles of Good Writing

The following principles are, according to conventional wisdom, virtually indispensable to all good writing. I present them here, along with my own thoughts about each.

Brevity Equals Clarity

Principle 1: Avoid wordiness at all costs. Simplicity and brevity are always best. Use short sentences and few words to convey your ideas more clearly.

My Response: An overly concise writing style sacrifices literary smoothness and sophistication. Even in business writing, it's critically important to maintain an intelligent, professional, and authoritative tone, which is rarely accomplished by over-simplicity or excessive brevity.

I would, in fact, contend that the problem of unclear writing isn't at all caused by wordiness, per se, but rather by a lack of facility in the effective use of language to convey thought. When a writer makes every word count, crafting each sentence, clause, and phrase with care, words become the source of a richness and breadth of self-expression that would be impossible to achieve with fewer words and less-complex sentence structure.

Such writing unquestionably requires greater concentration and mental processing on the part of the reader. Yet that effort is rewarded by the pleasure of partaking in the gourmet literary fare the writer has created just for the reader's enjoyment. As writers, our job is not to spoon feed our readers miniscule servings of pablum, but to provide a fabulous spread of grand ideas beautifully garnished with well-chosen words and phrases.

Simple language has its place, to be sure. Yet, when we limit ourselves to its exclusive use, we deprive our readers of the transcendent power of language to raise our consciousness above the mundane, the everyday, the commonplace. We ground their imaginations, preventing them from reaching the heights of thought to which they are capable. And that is not what great writing is about.

As for sentence length, variation is the ideal. Breaking up more complex sentences by varying them with shorter ones can give the reader a much-needed breather, clearing the way for the next great idea. And just as too many complex sentences in a row without a break can cause mental "exhaustion" in a reader, so also can too many short sentences in a row have the opposite effect, creating an unpleasant, choppy, uncoordinated feel that leaves the reader bored and dissatisfied. Short sentences can deliver ideas with impact--but only when they are the exception and not the rule.

Passive Voice is Passe

Principle 2: Avoid passive voice (like the plague). Active voice is always best.

My Response: Passive voice has its place and can be used quite effectively to achieve a more detached, clinical, authoritative, or exalted tone. Voice is entirely dependent on the writer's purpose for a piece, and passive voice is simply one writing technique that can improve a piece of writing when properly used--and when not overused. Passive voice can provide a refreshing variation from active voice when used periodically to make a piece more interesting. Passive voice can also be used to create a less forward, challenging, or accusatory tone.

Don't fear passive voice; rather, use it with wisdom, discretion, and intention--or don't. The choice is entirely up to you. You certainly aren't required to use it; but don't feel as if you mustn't, either.* Passive voice, like any other writing technique, is simply one tool in the writer's arsenal--perhaps one of the more specialized tools, which are used less often than the standard ones--but, nevertheless, one which is there to be used when needed. In writing, as in everything else, we always want to use the right tool for the right job.

Adjectives Are Out

Principle 3: Use adjectives sparingly; in fact, remove as many of them as possible from your writing.

My Response: I've received many a chuckle from this rule, as I've studied the paragraphs in which various writers have expounded the rule, mentally removing all the adjectives that hadn't been removed by them (note the non-accusatory passive voice here), only to find that, alas, the paragraphs that remained made little sense. I fear that most of us are unaware of the importance of the much-maligned adjective.

In my view, there's absolutely nothing wrong with adjectives. They're wonderful creations, which, when properly used, can add much to our writing. There's little doubt that the adjective is sometimes overused and that it often causes laziness in our choice of nouns by allowing us the luxury of using less-colorful, less-descriptive, or less-precise nouns. But my personal belief is that it's far more important to remove adverbs from our writing than adjectives, because removing adverbs forces us to use livelier verbs, which energizes our writing.

Adjectives should never be used simply to avoid the work involved in mining our vocabularies for the right noun to express our thought. But, neither should we fear the well-placed adjective, which adds substance to a sentence and builds descriptive power into our writing.

Those are my personal thoughts on a few of the rules of conventional writing wisdom.

What do you think?

* This sentence illustrates the happy marriage of passive and active voice. The first clause is passive, the second active. (This entire paragraph in fact represents the friendly give and take between active and passive voice. As you can see by the unforced variation between them, the two can indeed peacefully coexist.)

Did you enjoy this post? Have anything to add? Are there any rules of conventional writing wisdom with which you disagree? We'd love to hear about them!

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A New Blog that Led Me to Another Great New Site

As I checked my Technorati ranking yesterday, I noticed a Blog Reaction (backlink to my blog) that came from a blog I'd never, to my knowledge, visited before. This made me curious, so I clicked on over to check it out. When I arrived at the blog, I discovered that in his post, Viral Day, Phil had reproduced a fascinating list of links that has been making its way around the blogosphere. (To learn more about the list, click the link to the "Viral Day" post.) At any rate, Writer's Notes was on the list, and hence my visit to his blog.

The Free Rice Site Where Words Buy Food for the Hungry

While I was there, I noticed another interesting post, called Free Rice.... The post tells of a United Nations World Food Program effort to feed the hungry which is partially supported by a website called Free Rice. This site offers its visitors a multiple-choice vocabulary quiz, with multiple levels of difficulty (50 to be exact); and the site--or rather its sponsors--pledge to donate 10 grains of rice to the U.N. effort for every correct definition chosen. While it's true that 10 grains isn't much rice, if enough people get enough answers correct, it could grow into a substantial amount of food for hungry people around the world. (According to the site's home page, 45,925,390 grains of rice were donated yesterday and 52,142,290 the day before. The site also publishes a list which includes a breakdown of the daily rice donations that have been contributed so far.)

My First Intellectual Donation to the Fight to End World Hunger

I, personally, earned 2,000 grains of rice yesterday by correctly defining 200 words. (I don't know how many words I attempted, since I got many of them wrong. [Decided not to use my dictionary.]) But, this quiz is a great way to improve your vocabulary while doing your small part to help those less fortunate than you. And, of course you can go back again and again, whenever you're inclined to learn a few words and feed a few mouths.

Win-Win Situation: How the Quiz Works

The vocabulary skill level varies as you take the quiz based on whether your definitions are correct or not. When you get three words in a row right, you're moved up a level, and when you get one wrong, you're moved down a level. It's a fascinating mental exercise! Personally, I tended to hover around the 40-43 mark, though I went as low as 38 and as high as 45. But, the great thing about this test is that, no matter what level you're at, you still earn 10 grains of rice for every correct answer, and you never lose any when you get an answer wrong. So it's a win-win situation! You win by learning new words that you'll be able to use in your writing--and understand in your reading--and the hungry peoples of the world who are on the receiving end of the U.N. World Food Program win by receiving the fruits of your intellectual labors.

So why not check out the site, learn a few new words, and help feed the hungry!

Happy helping!

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The DCR Blog's Super Seven Meme

This post is my entry into Dan's DCR Blog Super Seven Sunday Meme. The honor of participating in this fascinating exercise in good vocabulary was passed along to me by JD, of I Do Things So You Won't Have To, in her I'm Having a Super Seven Saturday So You Won't Have To post. And while today is neither Saturday* nor Sunday, it is the day I finally managed to find--or rather make--the time to research and write my entry.

As instructed by Dan in his post (linked to above), I have chosen seven words beginning with the appropriate letter of the alphabet--which, in this case, happens to be "C"--and linked to seven bloggers, writing one thing about each of them using one of the words. In the first round, Dan used words beginning with "A." He then passed the meme on to JD and six other bloggers, who used words beginning with "B." And now I and my six fellow bloggers have been given the honor of using words that begin with "C."

Once we've linked to our chosen bloggers with our C-words, we must then tag seven other bloggers to carry on the meme by using words that begin with the letter "D" and tagging seven more bloggers to continue the meme. (These cannot be the same bloggers linked to in the first part.) This continues all the way through the alphabet, starting over, if the meme is still going, once the letter "Z" is reached. We must also link to Dan's blog, as the originator of the meme. (I've decided to link to JD, as well, since she's the one who passed the meme on to me. I've also chosen to follow JD's lead and link to dictionary entries for these very challenging vocabulary words, though this isn't a requirement of the meme.)

My Seven Super Bloggers and their Seven Super C-Words

One of Bradís 9 Steps to Clear Business Writing (a recent guest post he wrote for Joannaís blog) cautions business writers to be compendious.

If you asked Michaelís opinion, Iím sure he would tell you that conterminous paragraphs donít contribute to Pro Blog Design.

The crepuscularity of these two images, photographed by Cindy, is part of their charm.

I know Laura would feel compassion for any Work from Home Momma whoís work is interrupted by contumacious children.

Iím sure that Lillie, and others experienced in the publishing field, would agree that every corrigendum should be located and corrected before a book goes to print.

Somehow, I canít really picture Sylvia spending much of her study time cooped up in a carrel.

In Marcusís former teaching career, he no doubt often found his clothing somewhat cretaceous at the end of the school day.

The Seven Super Bloggers I'm Tagging for the Meme

Lewis, at Lewis Empire

Joanna, at Confident Writing

Yvonne, at Grow Your Writing Business

Denise, at Freelancing Journey

Robert, at Middle Zone Musings

Sharon, at Get Paid to Write Online

Melissa, at A Writerís Woolgatherings

The Torch Has Been Officially Passed!

Now that the torch has been passed to the seven bloggers above and the meme officially entrusted to them, we eagerly wait for each to carry on this most noble task of passing on some of the more obscure words of our language to those of us who wouldn't otherwise know their meanings.

Happy Learning!

* I posted this entry Friday evening; but, because of the time difference, it was actually Saturday in Australia when I posted it. Hence the Oct. 27th date--a Saturday.

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Mining the Archival Abyss

With the speed at which new content is posted to many blogs today--including this one--older (though equally valuable) posts quickly become buried in the deep, dark recesses of the archival abyss, where they can do absolutely no good. So, in the interest of fairness to those who may not have read some of these earlier pieces, I've decided to resurrect those that I believe to be the most helpful, by linking to the original posts, here. (In fact, you'll find quite a few more links than might at first appear, since the first post on the list which follows is itself a list of links to other great articles on writing.)

Tips, Techniques, and Tools to Help Writers Succeed

Add Color, Clarity, and Style to Your Writing: A Linkfest

Failure-Tolerant Leadership for Writers and Others

Magnetize Your Blog: Always Reply to Comments!

Write Engaging Headlines: Use the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

Need Ideas? Let the New York Times Help!

Google Alerts Can Help You Detect Misuse Or Abuse of Your Writing

More About Google Alerts and Your Blog

Keyword Density: Your Key to Better Search Engine Ranking

One Look Dictionary Search: Your One-Stop Word Shop

Hopefully, you've found some information here that's helped bring you closer to meeting your writing/publishing goals!

Much luck to you in all your endeavors!

Did you enjoy this post? Was it at all helpful? Have any questions? Please feel free to comment!


Answers to Your Writing Questions

Daily Writing Tips is the place to go for the answers to all those nagging little questions that so often come up about the myriad nuances of the writing craft. You'll find thorough, well-written pieces here, containing valuable principles which will enable you to greatly improve your writing.

Advice from a Knowledgeable Team

The helpful advice you'll find here comes from three writers and an editor with an interesting variety of experience under their collective belt. This writing team brings its fellow writers, who seek sound advice for polishing their work and perfecting their skills, a wide range of time-honored principles and helpful hints about such topics as the following:

-The Shortcomings of Proofreading
-Proper Word Usage
-Correct Grammar
-Effective Spelling
-Writing Numbers and Numerals
-Using the Inverted Pyramid Style of Writing
-Proper Use of Articles
-Eliminating Unnecessary Phrases
-Using Imagery
-Increasing Vocabulary

...and much more.

Categories are listed below:

-Book Reviews
-Business Writing
-Fiction Writing
-Freelance Writing
-Misused Words
-Word of the Day
-Writing Basics

Here's to Your Literary Health!

So, if you'd like to have all those nagging little questions about writing answered to your satisfaction--and the overwhelmingly large ones, as well--and pick up a few new vocabulary words while you're at it, check out Daily Writing Tips, where a tip a day can mean better literary health!

Happy writing!

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Proud to Be a Word Nerd!

August 22nd 2007 01:54

Word Nerd Badge

I'm a Word Nerd. Are You?

Brad Shorr, over at Word Sell, Inc., has designed a nifty little badge of honor for all of us bonafide, honest-to-goodness, word-nerd types to proudly display on our blogs to show the world that we are Word Nerds and we aren't ashamed of it!

After all, we writers love words! (Where would we be without them?) So, why not announce it to the world? Brad lists a few of the qualities of Word Nerds in his post, Be a Word Nerd!, inviting anyone who sees him/herself in that description to grab a badge (available in a variety of designer colors) and post it with pride.

Brad also gives all of us Word Nerds the opportunity to test our degree of "word-nerdiness," through one of the four vocabulary tests he periodically offers on his blog, all of which are conveniently listed and linked to in this post: Word Nerds Unite! (though the testing isn't a requirement for downloading and displaying the badge.)

Some Surefire Signs that You Are a Word Nerd

-Whenever you write, your dictionary, thesaurus, and Strunk and White absolutely must be within reach.

-You read the dictionary for pleasure.

-You relish every opportunity to use precise terminology--not primarily to impress people, but rather because it's important to you to convey the exact meaning of your thoughts.

-You're forever correcting people--even (gasp!) in public--when they've use a word incorrectly. (Either that, or you have to bite your tongue to keep yourself from doing so.)

-When people pause while speaking, to think of the word they want--or even to simply catch their breath--you're ready to jump right in and generously provide the term they were (obviously) looking for.

-You can sometimes sit there for literally hours trying to think of just the right word, before your semantic sensibilities will be satisfied enough to let you release a piece of writing to the public eye. (Well, OK, maybe you don't sit there the whole time, but the dilemma is always in the back of your mind, and that piece must absolutely be put on hold until you've solved it!)

Does any of that sound like you? If so, you're a definite candidate for the Word Nerd badge! (You may even have a few Word Nerd activities of your own that I haven't mentioned. If so, please feel free to share them in Comments.)

If you can relate to any of what has been written here, please read the section that follows and consider taking the next logical step.

Word Nerds of the World, Unite!

So, why don't all we Word Nerds of the world--or at least of the internet/blogosphere--unite in joining this elite semantic sister/brotherhood! Let's stand together in defense of the written and spoken word, used with precision and premeditation! (No, it isn't a crime.) Let's join Brad in sharing, with all those we meet in cyberspace--or anyplace--our unquenchable enthusiasm for the sensational subtleties of the well-placed word and well-turned phrase.

Feel free to visit Brad's Word Sell, Inc. blog, at one of the above links, to learn more about the Word Nerd movement, and if you should be so inclined, to offer your support. And while you're there, don't forget to pick up a badge, in your favorite color, and take advantage of this opportunity to show the world that you are indeed a Word Nerd!

From one Word Nerd to another,

Note: I'm unfortunately unable to add the Word Nerd badge to my already overloaded sidebar, which is the only reason why, for the time being, its display will need to be limited to this blog post.

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Do You Need to Liven Up Your Prose?

Would you like to put more color, zip, and style into your writing, while adding clarity at the same time? If so, you'll definitely want to check out the following resources, which are loaded with gems of wisdom on the subject. Some are single articles, while others are entire lists of articles and other materials that can help you say what you want to say and say it well. Whether you write e-books, news, scholarly essays, business reports, how-to articles, or fiction, you'll find something of value here.

A Varied Collection of Articles, a Verb List, and a Rubric

Aside from the varied collection of articles, designed to help with almost any aspect of the writing craft, I've also included among these resources a list of 500 verbs that can help you hold your reader's interest by constructing more intriguing sentences, through eliminating the tired, worn, and overused verbs we often tend to gravitate toward when writing. I've also added a rubric against which you can judge your own work. Though the rubric is aimed at teachers for use in evaluating their students' writing, it can also be a great means for you to measure the degree to which you are meeting your goal of producing well-written material for your readers.

Some Resources that Can Help You Write With Color, Clarity, and Style :

Verbs With Verve

A Glossary of 500 Multiple-Syllable Verbs

Writerís Resources Website: Articles Page

Accepted.Com (a business, medical, law, and college writing website)

Better Verbs (complete with several other writing-related articles)

Suggestions for Writers (more tips for scholars, though most are widely applicable)

Power of Description

Style and Clarity

Word Choice Rubric

Stock Language (writing tips for journalists)

Writing Resources (article list for better journalism)

Writing Strategies

Is It Good Writing? (focus is on journalism, but still some good advice for all writers)

These should keep you busy for a while!


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While visiting Laura Spencer's Writing Thoughts blog a few days ago, I came across this Blogger Spelling and Grammar Test in Laura's Of Note post for this week (which features The Copywriting Maven blog). Laura found the test in Copywriting Maven's Loose or Lose? The Blogger Spelling & Grammar Test post.

Always relishing a spelling and/or grammatical challenge, I decided to give the quiz a try. The following are my results. (Hurray!)

Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

If you're up for a spelling and grammar challenge, click on over and give it a go! If nothing else, you'll get a short refresher course on a few possibly long-forgotten spelling and grammar rules, which can go a long way toward improving your general writing and blogging skills!

And, while you're at it, check out the other fun quizzes and activities at Mingle2.Com, some of which are listed below:

How Addicted to Blogging Are You?
The Geek Quiz
What's My Blog's Film Rating?
The 2007 Internet Quiz - How Much Do You Know About the Internet?

Just a few little things to make blogging even more fun than it already is!

Happy testing!

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The following article on effective writing is reprinted here with permission, in the hope that its timely tips will help you more precisely convey the points you desire to get across to your readers--whether in a magazine or journal article, on your blog, in an ad for your product or service, in a sales letter, or in your essay, report, poem, short story, novel, or non-fiction book.

This article is Copyright 2003 by Cathy Stucker,

Words That Work

Do you sometimes agonize over choosing just the right word for your letter, brochure, ad or other written materials? Words have meaning, and choosing the right words is important.

Headlines and titles are especially important. You want to use words that will grab the attention of readers and encourage them to read more.

As they read more, you want to persuade them. This is true whether you are writing a sales letter or brochure, a how-to book, or a novel. Writing (good writing, anyway) is designed to convince the readers of something. You may be trying to sell them something, teach them something, or get them to believe in your story. In any case, the words you choose will directly affect your success.

First of all, be precise. Is it bi-monthly or semi-monthly? You may think they are the same thing, but they're not. Bi-monthly means every two months. Semi-monthly means twice a month. There is a big difference. Make sure your words have meanings that express what you mean.

To find just the right word, use a thesaurus. I like to use the thesaurus in my word processor, because I can quickly jump from one word to another.

When using a thesaurus, however, remember that the words you see listed will be similar in meaning to your original but not identical in meaning. Make sure you fully understand the meaning of any word you might use. Back when I was working in personnel, I received a resume that referred to the applicant's "promiscuous" experience. I don't think that's exactly what
they hoped to convey (at least, I hope that's not what they meant).

There is a wonderful book called, "Words That Sell" by Richard Bayan. It is like a thesaurus for marketing copywriters. For example, if you look up "Results" you get suggestions including fast-acting, never lets you down, performs, does the job, and many others. There are categories for many types of marketing messages.

Choose words which produce the emotional response you want. Words that get attention include new, secret, free, unknown, cash, insider, etc. These words give the impression that you are letting the reader in on something special.

Use alliteration. That means words that begin with the same sound. For example, Peter's Perfect Plan or Secrets of Super Success. Hard sounds (such as p, k or t) and the s sound are especially good. Say your line out loud to see how it sounds.

Watch for hidden meanings. Words may have acquired new meanings, and those new meanings may alter the effect of your sentence. Be aware of new slang usage. Your dictionary may not be current enough to help you. (Borrow a teenager for the most up-to-date information!)

Avoid jargon (most of the time). Don't assume your readers will understand what you mean when you use a technical term or bit of jargon. Use clearly understood language. If you must use jargon, explain it. One time you can use jargon is when you know your audience will understand it, and your use of jargon will mark you as one of "them". Jargon can identify you as someone who knows an industry.

Ask for input. Ask friends and potential customers to read what you've written. What do readers think of when they read or hear your words? Do they come across as friendly or abrupt? Do they seem believable? Do they properly convey your message? If so, congratulations! If not, keep working at it.

No matter how good your writing is, it can always be improved. So, keep reading, keep writing, keep testing and revising to make your writing as good as it can be.

You'll find lots of great information on growing your business and more at Most articles may be freely reproduced at your web site or in your print or online newsletter.


Hope this article will prove valuable to you in your quest to make your writing all that you'd like it to be!

Happy writing!

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We writers are crafters of language. We continually manipulate words, seeking the perfect one to use in expressing a precise thought, feeling, or idea. Our thesaurus is our close acquaintance. Our dictionary is our intimate friend and indispensable companion! Without quick, easy, and efficient access to the correct definitions and proper usages of the words we weave into our written masterpieces, we could never create written works that express our thoughts appropriately and effectively. For this reason, we must always be on the lookout for the best resources we can find that will cut down on the time required for word research and provide the needed information quickly and efficiently so that we can get on with the actual process of writing!
While browsing for online dictionaries one day recently, I came across a great resource--one that's better than a dictionary, because it's actually an entire collection of dictionaries. One Look Dictionary Search is a comparative index of dictionary websites which indexes "8,853,196 words in 937 dictionaries"--all of them online. That's a lot of words--and a lot of dictionaries! (There are both general and specialized dictionaries in this index. Some encyclopedias are included in the list, as well.)

This site gives you three search options: Find Definitions, Find Translations, and Search All Dictionaries. When Find Definitions is chosen, and a word (or phrase) is searched for via the site's search box, a list of dictionaries (and encyclopedias) that contain the word in their definitions is generated. At the same time, an instant definition is also generated in the "Quick Definitions" box on the right side of the page. This is a great feature when a quick, basic definition is needed.

The name of each reference site, as well as a link to its home page and an info link about the site can be found at the end of each single-line listing. Each listing also has a direct link to the definition of the searched-for word in the particular dictionary. These links are great for quick and easy comparison of sites, definitions, word etymology, etc.

Find Translations will generate a search of various language dictionaries, including multi-lingual dictionaries and foreign language dictionaries built around specialized topics--a boon to those who need to research non-English words.

The Search Dictionaries option generates a list of specialized dictionaries (in the English language), which follow the general dictionary definitions of the term, allowing the searcher to access such resources as dictionaries of Medicine, Religion, Science, and even Slang. This option could definitely come in handy for more in-depth research of a word or topic.

Wildcards may also be used to find either specific or numerous forms of a root word. And, amazingly enough, the site also features a handy reverse dictionary, which allows you to find a word when you already know its definition. It also offers a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, which addresses issues about which its readers may be uncertain.

One Look Dictionary Search is definitely your one-stop word shop! Check it out--and find all your definitions in one place! You'll save time, energy, and effort that would better be directed toward crafting your next literary masterpiece.

Happy Research!

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