10 Tips About Basic Writing Competency
Here are ten areas to be sure to attend to if you wish to be taken seriously as a professional writer.
1. Do not enter two letter spaces between sentences. Use of two spaces is an obsolete convention based on typewriter technology and will mark you as out of touch. If editors or other potential employers or clients notice that you don’t know this simple fact, they may be skeptical about your writing skills before you’ve had a chance to impress them.
2. Take care that paragraphs are of varying reasonable lengths. Unusually short or long paragraphs are appropriate in moderation, but allowing a series of choppy paragraphs or laboriously long ones to remain in a final draft is unprofessional.
3. If you’re submitting a manuscript or other content for publication, do not format it with various fonts and other style features. Editors want to read good writing, not enjoy aesthetically pleasing (or not) manuscripts; efforts to prettify a file are a distraction.
4. Do not, in résumés or in other text, get carried away with capitalization. You didn’t earn a Master’s Degree; you earned a master’s degree. You didn’t study Biology; you studied biology. You weren’t Project Manager; you were project manager. (Search the Daily Writing Tips website for “capitalization” to find numerous articles on the subject.)
5. Become familiar with the rules for styling numbers, and apply them rationally.
6. Know the principles of punctuation, especially regarding consistency in insertion or omission of the serial comma, avoidance of the comma splice, and use of the semicolon. (Search the Daily Writing Tips website for “punctuation” to find numerous articles on the subject.) And if you write in American English and you routinely place a period after the closing quotation mark at the end of a sentence rather than before it, go back to square one and try again.
7. Hyphenation is complicated. In other breaking news, life isn’t fair. Don’t count on editors to cure your hyphenation hiccups for you; become your own expert consultant. (In addition to reading the post I linked to here, search the Daily Writing Tips website for “hyphenation” to find numerous articles on the subject.)
8. Avoid “scare quotes.” A term does not need to be called out by quotation marks around it unless you must clarify that the unusual usage is not intended to be read literally, or when they are employed for “comic” effect. (In this case, the implication is that the comic effect is patently unamusing.)
9. For all intensive purposes, know your idioms. (That should be “for all intents and purposes,” but you should also just omit such superfluous phrases.) On a related note, avoid clichés like the plague — except when you don’t. They’re useful, but generous use is the sign of a lazy writer.
10. Don’t rely on spellchecking programs to do your spelling work for you, and always verify spelling (and wording) of proper nouns.