Trimble’s Writing With Style was required reading for me as an undergraduate English major. I, of course, didn’t read it back then. But 20 years later, I’m finding it useful.
Here are some of his suggestions for increasing the readability of your prose*.
- Write with the assumption that your reader is a companionable friend with a warm sense of humor and an appreciation of simple straightforwardness.
- Write as if you were actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly.
- Use occasional contractions. Don’t overuse them. Hold them in reserve.
- If you mean “I,” say “I.” Don’t use: the writer, one, this author, we, etc. Refer to the reader as “you,” not “the reader.”
- Don’t be afraid of the very short sentence.
- Keep your adjectives to a minimum. Let strong nouns do the work of adjectives.
- Avoid weak adverbs like: very, extremely, really, terribly, etc. “Very” betrays a distrust of the power of the word that follows it.
- Use the fewest words possible and the simplest words possible.
- Make sure that each sentence you write is manifestly connected to the ones immediately preceding and following it.
- Read your prose aloud.
- Written-out numbers such as twenty-eight are unwieldy. Use the numerals themselves from 10 on.
- You should occasionally begin a sentence with and or but. When you do, don’t put a comma after it. The comma is only necessary if a parenthetical clause immediately follows that first word.
- Give free reign to your sense of humor whenever possible.
- Choose your title with care. Make it accurately descriptive and try to give it zing.
- Avoid exclamation points.
* Condensed and paraphrased by HZH for 21st century readability.