Humanities › English 11 Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing Speech, Essay, Article, Blog, Email, or Business Letter Share Flipboard Email Print Westend61/Getty Images English Writing Writing Essays Writing Research Papers Journalism English Grammar By Richard Nordquist English and Rhetoric Professor Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester B.A., English, State University of New York Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. our editorial process Richard Nordquist Updated October 04, 2018 Whether you're composing a blog or a business letter, an email or an essay, your usual goal is to write clearly and directly to the needs and interests of your readers. These 11 tips should help you sharpen your writing, whether you set out to inform or persuade. 01 of 11 Lead With Your Main Idea As a general rule, state the main idea of a paragraph in the first sentence—the topic sentence. Don't keep your readers guessing, or they will stop reading. What is the importance of the story to the audience? Hook your readers promptly, so they want to learn more about your topic and will keep reading. 02 of 11 Vary the Length of Your Sentences In general, use short sentences to emphasize ideas. Use longer sentences to explain, define, or illustrate ideas. If all the sentences in a paragraph are long, the reader will get bogged down. If they're all really short, the prose will sound panicked or staccato. Aim for a natural-sounding flow. If a single sentence is over, say, 25 to 30 words, you could affect reader comprehension of your meaning. Break up really long sentences into two sentences for clarity. 03 of 11 Don't Bury Key Words If you tuck your key words or ideas in the middle of a sentence, the reader may overlook them. To emphasize key words, place them at the beginning or (better yet) at the end of the sentence. 04 of 11 Vary Sentence Types and Structures Vary sentence types by including occasional questions and commands. Vary sentence structures by blending simple, compound, and complex sentences. You don't want your prose to sound so repetitive that it puts readers to sleep. Start one sentence with an introductory clause and another with a straight subject. Include simple sentences to break up long compound or complex sentences. 05 of 11 Use Active Verbs and Voice Don't overwork the passive voice or forms of the verb "to be." Instead, use dynamic verbs in the active voice. An example of passive voice: "Three chairs were placed to the left of the podium." Active voice, with a subject doing the action: "A student placed three chairs to the left of the podium." or Active voice, descriptive: "Three chairs stood to the left of the podium." 06 of 11 Use Specific Nouns and Verbs To convey your message clearly and keep your readers engaged, use concrete and specific words that show what you mean. Follow the adage, "Show, don't tell." Give details and use imagery to describe what's happening, especially when it's really important that the reader picture the scene. 07 of 11 Cut the Clutter When revising your work, eliminate unnecessary words. Watch out for adjective- or adverb-itis, mixed metaphors, and repetition of the same concept or details. 08 of 11 Read Aloud When You Revise When revising, you may hear problems of tone, emphasis, word choice, or syntax that you can't see. So listen up! It might seem silly, but don't skip this step on an important piece of writing. 09 of 11 Actively Edit and Proofread It's easy to overlook errors when reviewing your own work. As you study your final draft, be on the lookout for common trouble spots, such as subject-verb agreement, noun-pronoun agreement, run-on sentences, and clarity. 10 of 11 Use a Dictionary When proofreading, don't trust your spell-checker: it can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it's the right word. English has some commonly confused words and common errors that you can learn to spot in a jiffy and easily excise from your writing. 11 of 11 Know When to Break the Rules Breaking grammar and writing rules is acceptable if done for effect. According to George Orwell's "Rules for Writers": "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."