In all, your writing should be understandable. It doesn’t matter how lyrical your language is if no one understands what you’re saying; communication is about getting your message through. Consider your writing from the standpoint of the reader, who may not be as knowledgeable about the subject as you are. Will they be able to comprehend?
Fancy words may perplex your reader, but plain terms will not. Big words can distract your readers, therefore skilled writers use them only when absolutely required. If possible, choose a tiny, straightforward word that is easy to understand. In the words of Winston Churchill, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, “short words are best, and old words when short are best of all.”
Words that have been repeated
Don’t use the same words again and over in English. Try to diversify your word choice, and utilize a thesaurus if necessary as you edit. If you’re writing about a topic that includes a certain word, look for a synonym and alternate them—there’s no need to come up with a new name for it every time.
Sentences and paragraphs that begin in the same way
When writing on a specific topic, especially for school papers, it’s tempting to begin every sentence with that topic as the subject. While this is technically correct, it results in writing that is boring and difficult to read.
To keep your writing interesting, use a variety of phrase openers. Change the subject every now and then—but avoid the passive voice—and don’t be frightened of conjunctive adverbs like however, although, and moreover.
Verb tense consistency
It is advisable to use the same verb tense throughout your piece of writing. However, sometimes, especially with nonfiction, authors become so engrossed in their work that they inadvertently flip tenses. Determine the tense to employ at the outset of self-editing and ensure that each active verb follows suit.
Clichés are, by definition, overused. When you say, “avoid it like the plague,” it’s apparent what you mean, yet clichés like that offer nothing to inspire or excite the reader. Clichés may flow naturally during the initial draft, so use self-editing to replace them with newer, more original terminology.
Hedging is language that appears unsure or dubious, such as stating “I think maybe we should go,” rather than “let’s leave.” Hedging, like the passive voice, hurts your writing, therefore attempt to eliminate it when self-editing.
Finally, double-check that your document’s formatting is right. Assignments may include criteria that you aren’t familiar to, such as employing the contentious Oxford comma, so double-check that you haven’t overlooked them throughout your initial draft.
If you’re performing an academic writing assignment, be sure you’re following the general formatting requirements, such as no double spaces, adequate indentations, appropriate font and text size, and so on. Pay close attention to citations and quotations—the citation guidelines for MLA, APA, and Chicago styles differ, so check which one the assignment requires ahead of time.