5 Tips for Writing Excellent Prose
Acclaimed authors such as Ian McEwan or Graham Swift write about complex topics with ease. While not everyone is a bestselling novelist, the same principles apply in writing an essay on how to operate a computer as they do in writing a novel about the depths of the human soul. Writing is not about volume, but rather about economy and clarity. These 5 tips will help transform any piece of written work into fluid prose.
- Make an Outline.
Outlines help writers focus on their subject, not on the blank page. Few writers are able to create compelling material when they don’t know what they are trying to say. Much like driving a car aimlessly around a city, writing without an outline can be interesting at first, but ultimately amounts to nothing but a waste of time. Writers should structure their pieces so that they have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The outline should show how the writer plans to answer a question or provide a solution to a problem.
- Choose a Tone.
Is your work comic, tragic, or informative? Choose words that reflect your tone. You wouldn’t use comic terms in an informative essay about computers, just as you would be unlikely to use overly technical terminology in a humorous piece about a birthday party.
- Choose a Point of View.
“Point of view” refers not only to the use of the first, second, or third person, but also to a particular viewpoint. If you are writing an essay about technology patent laws in Europe, choose a viewpoint. Readers prefer essays that extol particular positions. If you think the laws are unjust, don’t be afraid to state your opinion, but be prepared to provide supporting arguments throughout the work. If you include a fact that contradicts your position, be sure to include a counter-argument. Don’t try to represent both sides of an issue; it will confuse your readers.
- Eliminate Unrelated Details.
The best writers include only relevant details in order to engage, and not overwhelm, the reader’s imagination. The best way to determine what is a relevant detail and what is unnecessary is to imagine having a conversation in which you are asked to describe your home. Would you talk about the specific dimensions of your entryway door, the number of panels used in the ceiling, or the distance from the ground to the bottom of the windowpane? Probably not. You are more likely to describe your home as a two-bedroom apartment overlooking a landscaped city square. This latter detail provides a far more comprehensive visual description, and takes far less time to write.
- Finish Powerfully.
Never conclude your work uncertainly. Always finish with strength. Your readers are more likely to base their opinions of the piece on your conclusion. Readers enjoy feeling as if they’re learned something, so don’t be afraid to reiterate your point. However, be sure to provide them with one last piece of information. Excellent writing, after all, isn’t just about proper grammar: it’s about communicating a concept to your readers.
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