4 Plain and Simple True Facts About Writing Well
By Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth
Program Director, Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University
Back in the day when I was in elementary school, we had spelling class. I don’t think that class is offered any longer at any school. The thinking is that class time spent on spelling just isn’t necessary because computer programs now alert you to a word that’s either questionable or misspelled. Sometimes even computers make mistakes, so we all need to pay careful attention to the words we write.
I will be the first to admit that I’m not a perfect speller but I do know how to use a dictionary. I prefer the printed dictionaries over the ones in my computer. Just feels authoritative to hold that book in my hands and check the accuracy of a word or its origin or how it might be used differently.
While I consider myself a pretty darn good writer now, I wasn’t always. Writing was frightening. But I did write from an early age. Practice makes you better at whatever you’re doing.
So, allow me to give you a few tips and a few of my pet peeves regarding words.
Most are overused and worn-out any way. Use simple and straightforward language. For example, the phrase “It goes without saying”–if it really goes without saying, don’t say it. Get to the heart of what you’re writing and move on. Your readers will applaud your ability.
Don’t write (or say) something more than once. For example, the phrase “the city of Chicago” is redundant because doesn’t everyone know Chicago is a city? Also, “absolutely necessary”; if it’s necessary, then it’s necessary. Others to avoid: “canceled out,” “continue on,” “honest truth,” “plain and simple,” “true facts,” and “important essentials.” There are many more.
Use the right word.
Some words sound the same but have different meanings. For example, accept or except. Picking the right one can be challenging because often the pronunciation in spoken language is not accurate. There are many more word pairs like this in English. Be careful to use the correct word.
Then there’s “first annual.” Never, ever use, say or write that. You cannot have something annually until you’ve had the first one. You can then say “second annual” and be completely accurate.
If you want to get better at writing and spelling, keep your own list of words or phrases you misspell or that you use incorrectly. When you’re writing, refer to that list. Also, keep a thesaurus and a dictionary on your desk and refer to them frequently.
Your writing will improve, and so will your vocabulary. Why not be the person others turn to for help with writing and spelling? It can’t hurt and might even be a little fun.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.