2014 june 10

Five Powerful Tips to Improve Your Writing Quickly and Significantly

With little time to read, with momentary interest in improving, with no desire to read a lengthy introduction, we shall learn these tips straightaway.

1. Use an Array of Powerful Constructions to Begin Your Sentences, to Add Variety

Use these creative constructions to start some of your sentences; they add variety, style, and force:

  1. Use an infinitive phrase: To improve her writing, Jackie will read Grammar and Writing for Creators. 
  2. Use a prepositional phrase: After feeling embarrassed yet again, Jackie has decided to buy a grammar book to help her improve her writing. 
  3. Use a participial phrase: Tired of being a weak writer, Jackie has decided to read a grammar book to improve her writing.
  4. Use parallelism: Unsatisfied with being a lousy writer, distraught with the criticism of her recent report, and frustrated with the errors in her everyday writing, Jackie has decided to buy a grammar book to help her improve her writing. 
  5. Use a truncated clause: While busy, she will find the time to read the entire book. 
  6. Use a noun appositive: Soccer superstar Jackie Abrams plans to read a grammar book to improve her writing, as she prepares to write her memoir. 
  7. Use a noun absolute: A lady determined, Jackie will buy a grammar book to improve her writing. 
  8. Use “pre-adjectival fragments”—if I may coin a term: Embarrassed. Determined. Self Motivated. Jackie has decided to improve her writing, starting today.

2. Use Correlative Conjunctions with Parallelism and Use Serialization, to Add a Touch of Eloquence

Correctly using correlative conjunctions with parallelism is a fundamental technique that separates good writers from unskilled and inexperienced writers. The correlative conjunctions include Either … or, Neither … nor, Not only … but/but also, Not … but, and Both … and. When using these correlative conjunctions, the words or grammatical structure must be parallel. This formula helps to illustrate how to use these conjunctions:

Not only + [Word 1] + but also + [Word 2]
Word 1 and Word 2 must have the same grammatical structure and function. If Word 1 is a verb, then Word 2 must also be a verb. If Word 1 is a prepositional phrase, then Word 2 must also be a prepositional phrase.

For example, this is incorrect: Not only is he tall, but he is fast. The word after only is a verb (is), while the word after but is a noun (he). Essentially, we have these two structures: is he tall and he is fast. Those structures are quite different. They must have the same grammatical form and function. Study this correction: He is not only tall, but also fast. Here, we have two adjectives, each a predicate adjective, linked by the verb is (he is tall, he is fast).

Observe these examples depicting parallelism with correlative conjunctions (the parallel structures in underlined type, the correlative conjunctions in italics):


Either we leave today to get there on time or we leave tomorrow and risk being late.

Neither toil nor frustration nor resentment nor condemnation shall stop his relentless pursuit to accomplish his goals.

The money will not only be more than we need, but will also be enough to donate some to charity.

Both parents of middle schoolers and parents of high schoolers plan to protest the new traffic patterns.

Serialization refers to repeating the beginning of a phrase, clause, or sentence (or using the same grammatical structure), while maintaining parallelism with all the items in the series. We can write impressive sentences by serializing (aka piling up) phrases, clauses, and even full sentences, one after the other. Let’s freestyle before we look at some inspirational examples. Observe the way we repeat either the beginning phrase, the beginning clause, the beginning construction, or the beginning of an entire sentence in each example that follows:


In the morning after breakfast, I will practice my writing; in the early afternoon after lunch, I will study grammar; in the evening, during Breaking Bad, I will punctuate; in the moments before bed, I will yet learn, and even while asleep, I will continue to toil for writing proficiency.

Delicate onions, easy lettuce, gentle pickles, indiscriminate cheese, and copious meat will do it. Thank you! That’s how I love my sandwich.

Tommy shall bring his wife and kids. He shall stay for as long as he needs to. He shall do whatever is necessary for him and his family to feel comfortable. He shall return when he feels he has accomplished his goals.

3. Use Transitional Words and Phrases, to Add Flow and to Implicitly Help You Add Cohesion

Use transitional words and phrases to show the connectedness of the passage or sentences. Use words and phrases like these:






Apart from

As a result

As an example

As an illustration



But besides these




First … Second … Third







In conclusion

In addition

In fact

In short









Now as

On the one hand … On the other hand









To summarize


Yet the largest

Keep those words and phrases readily available, perhaps on a sticky note, whenever you write.

4. Use Phrases Throughout Your Sentences, to Add Refinement

Use these alternate constructions to start some of your sentences; they add variety, style, and force:

  1. Use an appositive phrase anywhere in a sentence: RMS Titanic, the once-heralded unsinkable ship, sits on the ocean floor.
  2. Use prepositional phrases at the end, not just the beginning: Maxine, though still only fourteen, works part time for experience, for self-confidence, for financial independence.
  3. Use a noun absolute mid sentence (or anywhere): William puts out his marijuana joint, his school around the corner, to avoid being found out.
  4. Serialize with prepositional phrases: With body sexy, with smile seductive, with allure irresistible, with clothes revealing, supermodel Kate Upton leaves men, red and wrinkled alike, spellbound and salivating when they are in her presence.

5. End Your Sentences Emphatically

“The last word is the one that stays in the reader’s ear and gives the sentence its punch.”1 Those words, written by author William Zinsser, are sound and more powerful than they may appear. F. L. Lucas expounds on the significance of ending our sentences with the important word: “For us, the most emphatic place in clause or sentence is the end. This is the climax; and, during the momentary pause that follows, that last word continues, as it were, to reverberate in the reader’s mind. It has, in fact, the last word. One should therefore think twice about what one puts at a sentence-end.”2

You are an engineer trying to secure a contract with a new client; how do you end your pitch?



Remember, we provide 24-hour tech support, a more comprehensive and intelligent plan, and above all, a solution that is cheaper than Company X’s solution.

Or this?

Remember, we provide 24-hour tech support, and we are offering you a better package than Company X is offering you: Our solution is more comprehensive, more intelligent, and more affordable.

As a defense attorney, which of the following endings do you want the jury to remember?



Mr. Goldbridge declared his innocence from the beginning, proved his innocence throughout the trial. He did not commit this gruesome crime.

Or this?

Mr. Goldbridge declared his innocence from the beginning, proved his innocence throughout the trial, and remains innocent.

Besotted with a new love, you write to express your feelings. How do you end your love letter?



My Dear, my every thought and every emotion are filled with a yearning for you, and my sensibilities and desires are consumed with you. I can’t get my work done.

Or this?

My Dear, my thoughts and emotions for you continue to impede my productivity, titillate my sensibilities, and arouse my desires, for you are my only desire.

Are you feeling me on this? Let’s leave the client with the words “more affordable” not, “Company X’s plan”; leave our (oops, your) new love with “my only desire,” not “my work done.”

If you incorporate those techniques into your writing, you will no doubt write better, for your sentences will be imbued with variety, eloquence, coherence, and refinement, and your prose will evoke admiration and relish.

A Note on “Grammar Snobbery” (aka “Grammar Nazi”)

Grammar and its usage are principally to help people communicate clearly and effectively, and, as Garner has imparted, “to help [you] sound grammatical but relaxed, refined but natural, correct but unpedantic.”3

Accordingly, pedantically hunting for grammar mistakes (or your dislikes and pet peeves) to purposely ridicule or shame an offender is not only unethical and unprofessional, but also rude and inconsiderate.
 Everyone makes grammar mistakes. Everyone. In fact, I have probably made a few in this very article.
Still, there’s no need to shame people for their ungrammaticalness. The best course is to notify them respectfully, if you feel it will help, and they will likely be thankful, for we all need any grammar help we can get. Remember, grammar is hard, but kindness is easy.

2014 may 31

When to Use the Passive Voice and Active Voice?

(Use the Passive Voice Purposefully; Use the Active Readily)

Is this sentence in the passive voice? "They could get picked."

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1. Understand the Active Voice

A clause or a sentence appears in the active voice when its subject performs the action of the main verb. For example, in the sentence Lupita eats the apple, the subject Lupita performs the action of the verb eats. Therefore, the sentence is in the active voice. Study these additional examples, all showing the active voice in different tenses (subject in bold type, active voice verb in underlined type):


Tony attended the concert yesterday. (past)

The plane is skidding off the runway. (present progressive)

The ball falls to the ground. (present)

He will arrive tomorrow. (future)

2. Understand the Passive Voice

We use the word get or a to be-verb (is, are, am, was, were, etc.) and a past participle of a transitive verb to form the passive voice. That is, get or to be-verb + past participle = passive voice when the subject is acted on (not the doer of the verbal activity). For example, in the sentence The apple was eaten by Lupita, note the use of was (a to be-verb) and the past participle eaten. We have two of the three things we need to form the passive voice so far (to be-verb and past participle). Next we need the subject to be the thing acted on. It shouldn’t be the doer or actor. The subject apple is not the doer of the verbal activity eaten. Rather, it is acted on; it is the receiver of the verbal activity: the apple was eaten. Study these passive voice examples (note the passive verb—a to be-verb plus a past participle—in underlined type):


The plane was moved by the pilot. (past)

Officers are being called out in force. (present progressive)

Many students are told to stay home. (present)

Christianity has been practiced for thousands of years. (present prefect)

Tomorrow, the game will be played. (future)

Prajeet was being recommended at the time. (past progressive)

Some of us want to be hugged. (infinitive)

Digging Deeper into the Passive Voice

To really understand the passive voice, we must recognize two things:

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