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EFFECTIVE WRITING, also good writing. The ability to express oneself well in WRITING and PRINT. Many successful writers have pointed out that writing well is a constant struggle (‘the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings’: T. S. Eliot, East Coker, 1940). There are no clear-cut, objective criteria for establishing a scale of effectiveness in writing for all purposes and occasions, but teachers at both school and college level, and writers of writing manuals, generally emphasize two levels of competence: (1) Ability with the basics of the written language: spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word use. (2) Awareness of the right STYLE and RHETORIC for the occasion and one's readership. The writers of four manuals that have been highly influential in the 20c offer their readers very similar ‘core’ advice on writing well:
Be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid … Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance ( H. W. & F. G. Fowler , The King's English: The Essential Guide to Written English, Oxford University Press: 1st edition 1906, 3rd edition 1931, most recent reprint 1990)
But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence ( William Zinsser , On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, New York: Harper & Row, 2nd edition, 1980)
The golden rule is to pick those words that convey to the reader the meaning of the writer and to use them and them only. This golden rule applies to all prose, whatever its purpose, and indeed to poetry too ( Sir Ernest Gowers , The Complete Plain Words, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, first published 1954, 3rd edition 1986; written primarily for British bureaucrats)
1. Place yourself in the background. 2. Write in a way that comes naturally. 3. Work from a suitable design. 4. Write with nouns and verbs. 5. Revise and rewrite. 6. Do not overwrite. 7. Do not overstate. 8. Avoid the use of qualifiers. 9. Do not affect a breezy manner. 10. Use orthodox spelling. 11. Do not explain too much. 12. Do not construct awkward adverbs. 13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking. 14. Avoid fancy words. 15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good. 16. Be clear. 17. Do not inject opinion. 18. Use figures of speech sparingly. 19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity. 20. Avoid foreign languages. 21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat ( William Strunk & E. B. White , The ELEMENTS OF STYLE, New York: Macmillan, 3rd edition, 1979: a list of the section-titles of ch. 5, ‘An Approach to Style’)
.Ability to write effectively is also commonly associated with the following points: (1) The habit of reading widely and a capacity to respond to established writers in terms not only of their surface messages but also their styles, subtexts, and allusions. (2) A willingness to fit the writing to the reader: ‘You must give readers either the style or the content they want, preferably both’ ( Peter Elbow , Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981)
. (3) The capacity and willingness to undertake planning and research that involve drawing up schedules and agendas, making detailed notes, preparing interim résumés, framing proposals for publishers, employers, or others, and collating material in successive drafts. (4) The willingness, however painful, to seek and accept critical comment before the publication or circulation of one's material, and to live with adverse criticism afterwards. Established writers tend to be their own first and severest editors, with the aim of reducing the likelihood of changes imposed by their editors and negative comment from reviewers and readers.