Ten Principles for Effective Writing – There is a debate as to whether you can actually teach someone to write. Some believe that you must be born with the ability. Even if you were born with an innate talent for putting words in a pleasing order, it may be possible to learn how to do it better.
An English professor of 40 years named F.L. Lucas; (1894-1967) wrote a book on the subject entitled Style (Cassell, 1955) where he outlined 10 principles to improve one’s writing skills. No matter the reason for your putting pen to paper, it would be wise to read these points and keep them in your writing arsenal.
The first and maybe the most important principle Lucas describes is brevity. We will say no more about that. He cites clarity as the second rule of good writing. It is no good to expound on any topic if no one knows what you are talking about. State your meaning clearly. Your job as a writer is to inform your readers without unnecessary muddle. Communication comes in third on our list. Lucas illustrates this principle with humor. Without communication we are all basically talking to ourselves.
The fourth principle is emphasis. Let’s stress that point. You want your readers to remember the climax. The after-words are meant to soften the landing and leave the climax etched in their memories. Coming in fifth is honesty. This law of writing is most helpful for those who want to impress. You cannot hide who you are by using big words. Writing outside of one’s comfort zone will tell itself pretty early on. Passion and Control show up at number six on this list of principles. Passion is a necessity of any writing. Without passion the words lay flat on the paper, evoking nothing. Control comes in to bridle passion for passion without control is chaos.
A writer needs to read. This is the seventh principle. Exposure to many different types of books will help round out one’s writing style. Lucas likens it to learning how to talk by hearing many different speakers. The eighth rule of writing is editing, or revision. Read, re-read and read again, then erase and rewrite. The ninth principle says that just because someone views themselves as sophisticated does not automatically mean what they have to say is any more important than those who may live simply. Lucas states that the opposite might be true.
Finally, at number ten, sound and rhythm round out our list. Although we mostly write for our eyes, it is profitable to also use our ears when evaluating our written word.
The main message in any article on how to write is be clear and state your message simply. Lucas blames half of bad writing on not following these two basic rules.