39 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Here is quite a good list (grin) that I found on improving your written communication (source unknown).

  1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
  2. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  3. Employ the vernacular.
  4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  5. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  6. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  7. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  8. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  9. One should never generalise.
  10. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  11. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  12. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  13. Be more or less specific.
  14. Understatement is always best.
  15. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  16. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  17. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  18. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  20. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  21. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  22. Don’t never use a double negation.
  23. Capitalise every sentence and remember always end it with point.
  24. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  25. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  26. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  27. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  28. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  29. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  30. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
  31. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to the irantecedents.
  32. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  33. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  34. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  35. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  36. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  37. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  38. The adverb always follows the verb.
  39. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

If I really examine the list, I don’t agree with everything (eg: nothing wrong with quotations), but there are some interesting ideas in here.

What do you think?

3D can distort the truth – using graphs in PowerPoint

Here is a simple exercise for you:

Have a look at this slide, and decide which slice of the pie is the largest. You will probably agree that it is either the red or the orange slice (Apple or RIM). OK, now decide what percentage of the pie Apple and RIM hold.


Of the people that I have shown this slide to, most have guessed that either

  1. Apple is larger or
  2. RIM is larger, but not by much

Everybody was surprised to see that RIM (39%) is almost double the size of Apple (20%) – everybody was fooled by the distortion created by the 3D effect on the graph.

Have a look at this slide. Now, it is quite clear that RIM is much bigger. So, when using 3D in your presentations, please have a careful look at the slides and check that you are not distorting the truth.


Note: the above data is not real data – it was just used to illustrate my point.

Self-improvement on your iPod

I have just found a great list of 100 websites that contain educational MP3’s and podcasts that you can download to you iPod. Some of it is commercial, but most of it is available for free.

Some of the material includes:

  • News
  • Vocab builders
  • Languages
  • City Guides
  • Educational games
  • Science
  • Philosophy
  • Audiobooks
  • Success
  • University classes (eg Stanford, MIT, Yale)

So now you have no excuse for not learning on the go.


(There is also a section on creating your own podcasts, podcasting software etc.)

Who is the star of the show anyway? How to introduce a speaker

The other day I head a speaker being introduced, and the MC made a complete mess of it. The worst part of the whole introduction is that the speaker was welcomed to the lectern, and then the MC continued with a clearly unprepared introduction. This left the poor speaker standing in the middle of the stage, completely unsure of whether to walk up to the mic, or to walk back off the stage and wait for the MC to finish!

This has happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you. Here are a few tips for introducing a speaker

  1. Check if they have their own written introduction ? most experienced speakers will.
  2. If the do have a written introduction, use it and stick to it.
  3. Keep the introduction short and to the point ? no more than a minute or two.
  4. Be clear when you are calling the speaker to the stage, welcome them (a simple handshake will do), handover, and get off the stage.
  5. Don?t steal any thunder from the speaker. If you have heard them before, don?t mention too much about their topic, or the great joke they told – you don?t want to steal their thunder.
  6. If the speaker has a difficult to pronounce name, ask them how to pronounce their name, and be sure to get it right. Write it out phonetically if necessary.
  7. Remember, the audience is there to hear the speaker, not you.

What else should the MC do?

A picture speaks 1000 words – using graphs in PowerPoint

Sometimes we need to present complex data in our PowerPoint presentations. There are two ways to do this.

  1. Confuse your audience with the data
  2. Simplify the data into an easy to understand format

One of the easiest ways to turn data into a simplified format is to convert tables of raw data into clear graphs.

Have a look at the below table which contains one month of exchange rate figures.


What does the table tell you? Unless you are very used to looking at that sort of data, not much. Can you see the trends? How about the peaks and troughs?

Now, have a look at this picture.


Now what do you see? Does it look a bit more simple? Is it less overwhelming? Does it give you a better idea of what the data is really doing? Remember that it is exactly the same data, just presented differently.

Converting any table of data into a graph is a very effective manner to simplify it, and to make it more accessible to your audience. Here are four tips for creating a graph:

  1. Make the data and lines clear and easy to read
  2. Minimize use of 3D – it can clutter the graph
  3. Only show data that is relevant – don’t display loads of data lines
  4. Clearly hi light points of interest (eg the max and min values above)

Of course, the usual rules still apply – make sure that your slides are clear and easy to read. Let’s look at this last slide.


Spot the problems:

  1. The axis labels are too small to read
  2. The 3D does not add to the graph
  3. The graph line is difficult to read
  4. The graph is bunched up in the top of the screen – the bottom is wasted real-estate

Please – don’t ever create a graph like that!

Remember – make your slides as clear and simple as possible!

Forward, backwards, left, right, up down – where are you going?

CompassThe other day at a Toastmasters meeting, a speaker mentioned seven directions where we can look.

  • Look behind you to know where you have come from
  • Look forward to know where you are going
  • Look up to see the endless possibility (how fascinating)
  • Look down to keep yourself firmly on the ground
  • Look left and right, to see what is around you
  • And finally, look inside you to know what it all means.

I quite like that – what do you think?

(the speaker Andrew actually used right and wrong instead of left and right, that also puts an interesting slant on it. Look around to know what is right, and what is wrong)

Image from http://www.stanleylondon.com/compsurv.htm.

Many Little Steps make a few Big Steps

Steps_2About  six weeks ago, I had minor back surgery to sort out a problem with a slipped disc. A large part of the rehab process consisted of resting, with limited stretching and exercise.
Over the first few days, my routine was relatively unchanged, I spent the majority of the day in bed. I only got up to eat, shower or use the bathroom. I tried to spend more time out of bed, but I could not – I was frustrated by the perceived lack of progress in my recovery.

I didn’t see any progress between Monday and Tuesday, or between Tuesday and Wednesday, or between Wednesday and…ok, you get the picture. However, when I looked back from Friday to Monday, I started to realize how much progress I really had made. On Monday I was in bed for 23 hours a day, while on Friday I was only in bed for 22 hours (one hour is a big difference after back surgery), and I had cut my pain medication in half.

By the next week, I was only in bed for 20 hours with the occasional pain pill, and the week after I was in bed for about 15 hours a day. Now, I am in bed for my regular 8 hours a day, I am back at work, and I am completely off pain medication. Over the weeks there was huge progress, but hardly any from day to day.

So, when you are working towards a goal, how often do you abandon the journey because you are so focused on the your progress that you don?t see the progress over the weeks? Do you get frustrated because you don?t see any weight loss from day to day, or because you aren?t running further each day? Do you realize that over a week you have lost weight, or you are running further, faster and with less effort?

It is so easy to get caught up in the detail, and to forget the bigger picture. Each little step, no matter how small is a step forward, and without those little steps, you are not going to manage the bigger steps.

Here are a few steps to help you to focus on the bigger picture. Do this whenever you feel like giving up.

  • Decide what your goal is (remember SMART)
  • Commit yourself towards working towards that goal
  • Plan your milestones towards reaching your goal
  • Look back from time to time
  • See how many little steps you have taken
  • Realize that many little steps make a few big steps

Now, with the back surgery, I didn?t really have an option except to move forward, but when you do have the option of dropping out of a programme because you are frustrated at the perceived lack of progress, remember to  keep the bigger picture in mind, and remember that if you persevere, you will move forward, and you will achieve those goals.