Language and writing, reflecting today’s cultural thinking, are often overinflated. To capture attention in a noisy playing field, some feel compelled to lean on every emphatic technique in the book.
I first discovered the power of wielding a red pen when I was trained as a production editor. During the days of editing on paper, I quickly learned that splashes of comments across the page—in this forceful color—could quickly translate into an assault. The transition to online editing allowed for the selection of a softer color; however, unrelenting strikethroughs and stacked comments nonetheless evoked memories of the harshest grammar teacher—when that subject was still taught.
Here are some writing tips, which will help you deliver stronger messages:
1. Resist excess use of capital letters: Some hold fast to capitalized strength as a visual expression of authority. Every other word is uppercased, although industry-wide publishing guidebooks recommend the lowercase treatment of general references. For example, the use of words such as “department” continually poke back up to capitalized stature—even when they aren’t placed before full names or as part of formal titles.
2. Avoid writing excesses: Efforts to extinguish other writing excesses prove just as troublesome. Why is it necessary to delete such a small word as “very,” you wonder? Clinging to this word as a way of stressing another misses the ability to find a single one capable of holding its own strength.
3. Limit boldface type: Are you tempted to rebound with double force and boldface an entire line—or even a whole paragraph? This approach is equivalent to shouting or overloading the senses with ear-splitting music. Instead of relying on this technique, guide readers to the end of a lengthy article through the power of ideas.
4. Use italics sparingly: As an alternative to boldface type, do you back-peddle with the somewhat more gentle use of italics? Publishing industry “bibles” recommend the sparing use of italics for specific titles or single words. One reason is that the overuse of slanted type will leave readers feeling seasick and vulnerable without a lifejacket.
5. Reign in exclamation points: To pack a punch, it’s easy to slip into exclamation point giddiness. Without this stand-at-attention mark, the right words to convey feelings, thoughts and experiences may appear to fall short. However, triple exclamations or complete dependence on this popular punctuation mark may ultimately distract readers.
6. Express complex ideas with simple language: Many decades later, the words of wise writing professors still ring true. One patiently explained that thinking can be complex while the language and presentation remain simple. Another suggested that artificial writing devices are reminiscent of a beautiful woman walking down the street with her slip showing.
7. Check the mirror of thinking behind words on a page: If words are selected carefully and carry independent strength, dressing them up simply isn’t necessary. In a world that recognizes the loudest voices, restraint in language and writing can still hold quiet power.
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