Habits of Effective Writers

Organize and Argue
Good writing is about raising important issues, making persuasive arguments, and marshalling evidence. The key to expressing your ideas effectively is sound organization. Follow a logical design and build your paper with clear sentences and coherent paragraphs.
  • See The Elements of Style, Rules 12, 13, Reminder 3, and Chapter II, on paragraph unity; see The Essentials of Writing, "The Writing Process" (1-6), and on unity (50).

Be Concise
William Zinsser writes, "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon." Ruthless editing of unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences will improve your writing dramatically.
  • See The Elements of Style, Rule 17, Reminders 6, 11, 14; The Essentials of Writing on jargon (27); the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision."

Write What You Mean
Know what you mean, know the meaning of words, and choose the words that precisely express your thoughts.
  • See The Elements of Style, Reminder 16, and Chapter 4; The Essentials of Writing on diction (24); the Writing Center handout "Commonly Confused Words."

Write with Force
Express your ideas directly and gracefully. Vague words hide good arguments, but they don't camouflage bad ones. Using strong verbs in the active voice will make your writing more forceful. Keep subject and verb close together.
  • See The Elements of Style, Rule 14, 15, 22, Reminder 8; The Essentials of Writing on active voice (31); the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision."

Write for a Reader
Your professors are a captive audience. In your professional life, you will not have this luxury. Most readers are busy and impatient, and you will lose them quickly if you make their job difficult. Develop the habit of reading your writing as another person might read it. Read your sentences aloud. Test your work on readers, including the peer tutors at the Writing Center.
  • See Essentials of Writing on audience (7) and primer style (35).

Revise and Rewrite
The bad news is that writing is hard work. The good news is that with hard work you will become an effective writer. Make drafts a habit, even when they are not required. In addition to editing on screen, edit hard copies of your drafts in the cold light of day. Use the Writing Center.
  • See The Elements of Style, Reminder 5; Essentials of Writing, "The Writing Process" (1-6); the Writing Center handout "Revision: First to Final Draft."

Avoid Common Errors
Rules of grammar organize communication, and your readers will judge you by your knowledge of these rules. On the reverse side of this page are common errors. Learn to avoid them, and you will be a long way toward becoming an effective writer. Learn other rules of grammar by paying careful attention to comments on your paper and asking questions about comments that you do not understand. More ...