My name is Eric Cowan. I created this website in order to help people become better writers.
Here are my qualifications:
- I earned my M.A. in English at Arcadia University in 2008, finishing with a 3.9 grade point average.
- I worked eight years as a technical writer for a major telecommunications conglomerate/ISP.
- I taught Writing for Business & Industry at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.
1) Keep it simple!
As William Zinsser says in his book On Writing Well, the most common disease in writing today is clutter. Unnecessary words, meaningless jargon, and pompous frills are everywhere in contemporary writing, and readers get frustrated when they try to sort through it all.
Why do so many writers make their writing so complicated? What is their motivation? Often writers use long words or complicated syntax because they think it will impress their readers. What they fail to understand is that the best way to impress their readers is to communicate interesting ideas in clear, simple language.
2) Understand the difference between active voice and passive voice, and use active voice whenever possible.
A sentence in active voice is a sentence in which there is a subject that is performing some sort of action. The action may be exciting (e.g., climbing Mount Everest) or it may be dull, as in the following sentence:
The senator is discussing the amendments to the health care bill.
In this sentence, the subject is “the senator,” the person doing the action (that is, the “discussing”). “The amendments to the health care bill” is the object.
If we were to rewrite the sentence in passive voice, we would say:
The amendments to the health care bill are being discussed by the senator.
Note that by using passive voice, we have turned the object into the subject, thereby making the sentence even less interesting than it had been before.
Perhaps the biggest problem with using passive voice is that it makes it easy for the writer to fail to identify who is performing the action. For example:
The amendments to the health care bill are being discussed.
This sentence is so vague, that it provides almost no value to readers. If you are writing sentences such as this, then you are probably wasting your readers’ time.
I’ll leave you with one more example. In 1966, a musical group called the Bobby Fuller Four had a top-ten hit called “I Fought the Law.” “I” is the subject, the one who is doing (or in this case, the one who did) the action. “The law” is the object. What if the song had been titled “The Law was Fought by Me”? I’m pretty certain that it wouldn’t have been a hit.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.