Writing Better: 5 Tips to Be More Effective
Good writing techniques are important no matter what the purpose. Unfortunately, the finer points of writing can be hard to remember. Here are a few pointers to help give the best impression to your audience.
1. Dashes and hyphens — what's the difference?
The dash (—) and the hyphen (-) are similar, but each mark has its own use. Dashes are used to indicate an abrupt change in a sentence. The dash comes in two different sizes: — and –, called the em- and en-dash respectively. On a Mac, you can type an m-dash with the
option + shift + - keys, and
option + - for the n-dash.
Abbi loves tea — and tea mugs — but doesn't dislike coffee.
We had made plans to go – so long as it didn't rain – last month.
The hyphen is the dash's shorter and easily forgettable cousin. Its function is similar in that it's useful to avoid ambiguity and is used especially when forming compound words.
Note: Hyphens aren't required to form a compound word consisting of an adverb and a verb, since the word that the adverb modifies is apparent.
The amount of time readers spend on reading text is minimal. Especially on the web, users want the information they're looking for quickly, so superfluous words can be harmful to getting your message across. After writing, go through and see if you can say things in a shorter way. The word "that" can be eliminated in a lot of cases without changing the meaning of the sentence. Also watch out for unnecessary S's in words like towards, backwards and so on to make your copy more streamline.
that he prefers the red jacket.
that they submitted is controversial.
3. Everyday, every day; complement, compliment
It's easy to misuse these words because they're so similar.
Every day describes something with a daily occurrence: Every day I walk my dog.
Everyday describes something ordinary or widespread: A recipe with everyday ingredients.
A compliment is a nice remark: He complimented her on her shoes.
A complement is a fitting addition: Those shoes complement your jacket.
Also of note: a complimentary item.
Redundant phrases are so ingrained in our everyday language we often don't realize the error with using them.
5. The serial comma
Sometimes called the Oxford comma, the practice of including a comma before the final conjunction in a series of items can be a contentious issue. Advocates (like the Chicago Manual of Style) mandate its usage to prevent ambiguity, while others (like the Associated Press Stylebook) say in most cases it's unnecessary and a waste of space.
She likes oranges, apples and bananas. (unnecessary)
I met your parents, Barbra Streisand and Ronald Reagan. (necessary)
Perhaps the best answer is to use what makes sense on a case-by-case basis. If you prefer one over the other, be sure to maintain consistency throughout your writing.