1. Write to communicate, not to impress with your writing. Good writers disappear behind the subject they bring to life.
2. Say it shorter.Weak: She was so confused, she didn’t know what to do. Stronger: She was stumped.
3. Small words beat big ones. Big words usually signal a writer trying to show off (see Rule 1). Weak: Masticate. Stronger: Chew. Weak: Expectorate. Stronger: Spit. Weak: Inebriate. Stronger: Drunk.
4. Active is stronger than passive voice.Weak: He was being watched by everyone in the neighborhood. Stronger: Everyone in the neighborhood watched him.
5. Beware “is,” “are,” “was” and “were.” They may signal an opportunity for condensing. Weak: She was well-liked. Stronger: People liked her. Weak: The recipe is a combination of… Stronger: The recipe contains…
6. Forget what your English teacher said about avoiding “you,” “your,” etc. In real writing, use “you” freely, but intelligently. Addressing the reader as “the reader,” or the customer as “the customer,” is punishable by death. Weak: The reader [or, “the customer”] will appreciate… Stronger: You’ll love…
7. Edit like mad. Throw out every word you can without losing meaning. Weak: He told everyone present that his motive for killing the late canary was the inescapable result of a considerable number of mishaps during his childhood. Stronger: He blamed killing the canary on his childhood.
8. Beware adverbs. They can signal the need for a stronger verb. Weak: He walked slowly. Stronger: He lumbered. Or: He crept. Or: He shuffled. Or: He lurched. Or: He moped.
9. Show (as opposed to tell).Weak: He was mad. Stronger: His face reddened, his fists tightened, his jaw trembled. Smoke billowed from his ears.
10. Avoid “got,” “get,” etc. They signal a need for a better verb or sentence structure. Weak: He was getting hungry. Stronger: His stomach growled.
11. Avoid clichés. Weak: He settled into bed, snug as a bug in a rug, and lived happily ever after. Stronger: He slipped under the covers and turned off the light.
12. Loosen up. Use contractions. And fragments. Conversational is good. Even the stuffiest PhD prefers an accessible voice to one that is mindlessly formal. (Just don’t overdo it.)