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Presentation on theme: "WRITING SKILLS."— Presentation transcript:


2 Objective to survey the difference between good and bad writing, with particular focus on brevity, clarity, and structure

3 Writing Skills What do you think makes bad writing?
What frustrates you as a reader? Is there a particular kind of writing that you find especially difficult?

4 Bad writing… Thinks too much of itself.
“Innovative solutions for wound management.” (Dow Corning, a bandage manufacturer) “Oil and gas transport and handling solutions.” (Colfax Corporation, pipeline and refinery) “Waste Management Solutions is a waste brokerage company which was conceived by a consortium of waste experts of long standing in the industry.” (garbage and recycling collectors)

5 Bad writing… Is too clever for its own good.
“The Governing Body are agreeing this budget as the financial mechanism to support the education priorities of the school as identified in the School Development Plan and will adhere to the best value principles in spending its school funding allocation.” “Roundwood Park's café is entering a new era now the much appreciated amenity's immediate future has been secured through a new tenancy agreement.”

6 Bad writing… Gets hyped up.
“The Joint European Torus (JET) has established a legacy of innovation and will continue to advance the frontiers of…” “Innovative Silicon: to revolutionize the electronics industry by delivering the next generation of memory technologies.” “Siemens: Society faces some profound challenges in the coming years but Siemens is preparing to face them head on - using revolutionary technology for a better future for us all.”

7 Bad writing… Needs to go on a diet.
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine Saint-Exupery Toby Alter, Flickr

8 Bad writing… Tells lies and misrepresents opinions or theories as truths.

9 Bad writing… Accidentally misleads, and forgets to fact-check or proofread. Uses ambiguous phrasing.

10 Bad writing… Goes in too many directions.

11 Bad writing… Ignores the reader.
Microsoft: “This software is licensed under the agreement below.” Google: “Please read this carefully: it’s not the usual yada-yada.”

12 Bad writing… Thinks too much of itself Is too clever by half
Gets hyped up Needs to go on a diet Tells lies and misrepresents opinions or theories as truths Is unintentionally imprecise, ambiguous or misleading Has no direction Ignores the reader

13 Good writing is readable.
All of the above tips are in pursuit of READABILITY. Write to express, not impress. Every writer is a reader: what you hate when you read is what you should avoid when you write. Your goal is an attentive readership. Write so that a 15-year-old could understand you.

14 Good writing is concise.
Why say “functionality”, when you can say “function”? Some other serial offenders: Utilise Operationalise Medication Learnings

15 Simplify! A considerable amount A majority of A number of
Are of the same opinion At this point in time Based on the fact that Despite the fact that In many cases In the event that On a daily basis Take into consideration Through the use of

16 Simplify! He indicated… I have been employed by… I observed…
I proceeded to the vicinity of… I approached the entrance… I apprehended the perpetrator… I observed the subject fleeing on foot from the location…

17 Simplify! Why use ten words when you can use four?
Examples from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change’s 2009 Renewable Energy Strategy : 1. “To deliver this we will … [p]ut in place the mechanisms to provide financial support for renewable electricity and heat.” 2. “We will…[e]nsure a strategic approach to planning…”

18 Concision Practice Example: There are many farmers in the area who are planning to attend the meeting which is scheduled for next Friday. Many local farmers plan to attend next Friday's meeting. Example: Their car is fuelled up. It is ready for the long drive. The drive will take all night. Their car is fuelled up for the all-night drive. (The sentence discussing the “long drive” is redundant – an all night drive is clearly a long one.) 1. Although Bradley Hall is regularly populated by businessmen, close study of the building as a structure is seldom undertaken by them. 2. It is expected that the new schedule will be announced by the bus company within the next few days. 3. It is very unusual to find someone who has never told a deliberate lie on purpose. 4. A downtown rally was attended by more than a thousand protesters. Five protesters were arrested by police for disorderly conduct, while several others are fined by civil administrators with organizing a public meeting without being issued a permit to do so. 5. The subjects that are considered most important by elected officials are those that have been shown to be useful to them in re-election campaigns. 6. In our company there are wide-open opportunities for professional growth with a company that enjoys an enviable record for stability in the dynamic atmosphere of aerospace technology. 7. Some people believe in capital punishment, while other people are against it; there are many opinions on this subject. 8. The cliff dropped to reefs seventy-five feet below. The reefs below the steep cliff were barely visible through the fog. 9. Sometimes John went running with Sarah. She was a good athlete. She was on the track team at school. 10. Government leaders like to mention the creation of new jobs. They claim that these new jobs indicate a strong economy.

19 Be natural. Does anyone know what this means??!
“The consultant demonstrated how aggregate remuneration might be ameliorated by modifications in our propensities to utilize credit for compensating for services. She also endeavoured to ascertain which of our characteristics were analogous to those of other entities for which she had fabricated solutions. She recommended we commence to initiate innumerable modifications in our procedures to increase cash flow, which she considers indispensable for facilitating increased corporate health.” Does anyone know what this means??!

20 “Official” style? Readers have a difficult time understanding writing that is unnecessarily complex. If the reader has to work hard to understand the meaning, the writing is ineffective, with miscommunication and wasted time as a result.

21 Bureaucratese: the art of saying little, at length.
1) She made a negative evaluation of his physical appearance. 2) Your maternal parent is engaged in the act of vocalizing so as to compel a response on your part. 3) I turn my delighted gaze upon the denizens of the deep, whose scintillatingly silent realm is lit by an eerie illumination, all the way to its unplumbed depths. Rejoice, O fishes, in your supreme serenity!

22 Why say this… …when you can say this?
1) She made a negative evaluation of his physical appearance. 2) Your maternal parent is engaged in the act of vocalizing so as to compel a response on your part. 3) I turn my delighted gaze upon the denizens of the deep, whose scintillatingly silent realm is lit by an eerie illumination, all the way to its unplumbed depths. Rejoice, O fishes, in your supreme serenity! …when you can say this? 1) She thought he was ugly. 2) Your mother’s calling you. 3) I looked down into the softly-lit pool of fishes: its calmness echoed the coolness of its inhabitants.

23 Keep your language FRESH:
Avoid clichés. Keep your language FRESH: Avoid clichés!! If you’ve heard it before, if it sounds familiar, it’s probably a cliché. © Kris Anderson Clichés: Bore your reader Make your work seem derivative and unimportant Make your writing seem dull and bovine Make the writing process less creative and interesting to you

24 Avoid negative formations if possible.
Don’t say: “We did not anticipate not hearing from him.” …if you can say, “We anticipated hearing from him.” Don’t say: “We did not make any unplanned stops.” …if you can say, “We made only planned stops.” © Kris Anderson

25 Be precise. Especially in scientific or technical writing – or in translating scientific writing for a general audience – it’s CRUCIAL to know exactly what terms mean before you use them. This is also true for statistics. Precision also means avoiding redundancy: Actual fact = fact Close proximity = close Consensus of opinion = consensus New initiative = initiative Reason why = reason © Kris Anderson

26 Use specific and concrete words
With a partner, re-write the paragraph below so that it uses specific and concise language (and yes, you can make up the details). Example first sentence: “Uchumi is lowering prices by between 30-50% on its products.” “In an effort to stimulate sales, Uchumi is lowering prices substantially on its line of consumer items. Sometime soon, it will close most of its stores for several days to provide store personnel time to change prices. Markdowns will range from very little on its line of laundry equipment to a great deal on certain sporting equipment. Uchumi plans to rely on advertising to let people know of these price reductions. In particular, it is considering using a popular television star to publicize the new pricing strategy.”

27 Avoid flowery language
There’s a time and a place for decorative ornamentation, but your professional writing isn’t it. Avoid unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, over-the-top language, and long descriptive passages, especially in scientific/technical writing: He is not “monstrously obese”, he is “obese” He doesn’t go “extremely quickly”; he goes “rapidly” She is not “incredibly, jaw-droppingly beautiful, as beautiful a the sunset over Lake Victoria”, she is “attractive” The bridge is not “a crumbling, cracked menace to humanity”; it is “dangerously dilapidated” or even just “needs urgent repair”. © Kris Anderson Shah-i-zinda necropolis, Samarqand, Uzbekistan

28 Clear, concise, effective prose
All of the above tips will help your writing to be convincing, accessible and authoritative. Above all, clarity and concision are most important: if you’re struggling with the words on the page, turn away from it and ask yourself “what am I trying to say?” and then write exactly that.

29 Ask the experts… “Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers' evaluations of the text and its author… The continuing popularity…of using big words…may be due to the fact that [writers] may not realise these techniques could backfire… One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it's more likely you'll be thought of as intelligent." -- Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Princeton University Professor of Psychology (“Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly”, Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology 2005, DOI: /acp.1178 )

30 Main steps for effective writing
Research Structuring and planning Further reading/research Writing Reviewing Re-writing Brainstorm: Take ten minutes and discuss in groups of threes or fours what you think each of these steps might mean. Also, think about where (in which step) some of the tips from previous slides might be employed.

31 Review Key points from previous sections? Previous sections included:
What makes bad writing bad? What makes good writing good and how can I improve my own? What are the main steps to writing well?

32 This presentation was originally written by Kris Anderson
The presentation is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to modify and use this presentation for non-commercial purposes providing you retain the attribution of all images and credit INASP. For further information please contact

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