Ten Principles for Improving Clarity and Precision of Written Documents

1. Prefer the active voice.

2. Don’t make nouns out of good, strong “working verbs.”

3. Be concise. Cut out all excess baggage. Keep your average sentence length under 20 words.

4. Be specific. Use concrete terms instead of generalizations.

5. Keep related sentence elements together; keep unrelated elements apart. Place modifiers as close as possible to the words they are intended to modify.

6. Avoid unnecessary shifts of number, tense, subject, voice, or point of view.

7. Prefer the simple word to the farfetched, and the right word to the almost right.

8. Don’t repeat words, phrases, or ideas needlessly. But don’t hesitate to repeat when the repetition will increase clarity.

9. Use parallelism whenever it is appropriate — that is, when you are ex­pressing similar thoughts, make sure you write your sentences so that the elements are in similar or parallel form. But do not use parallel structure when expressing thoughts that are not truly similar.

10. Arrange your material logically. Always begin with ideas the reader can readily understand. If you must present difficult material, go one step at a time.

Do not skip any steps. Arrange your format to give the reader every possible “handle” on the material.


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