Ideas to Improve Writing Style

ESL student writing – especially narrative and descriptive pieces – can be flat, dull and homogeneous.

Overuse of simple verbs is one problem that can fix that style problem. Tired verbs like be, find, go, say and see are easy to write in proper. Sure the sentence is grammatically correct but writing is a lot more than just good grammar, ain’t it? Sure, it gots to have style.

Here are a couple of exercises which I uncovered in a terrific book, 500 Word Theme by Harry Kroitor and Lee Martin (1994).

Editing for Style: Tired Verbs

Read the paragraph. Pay attention to the tired verbs (e.g. be, can, go, etc). rewrite the paragraph.

bug-2The Volkswagen is unexcelled for dependability. It is well behaved under driving conditions in which other cars are kept off the road. Unlike conventional cars with their engines over the front wheels, the VW engine is in the back, which gives superior traction to the rear wheels. As a result, the VW can climb steep, slippery hills with ease or it can go with sureness through ice snow, mud and sand. Furthermore, other cars are easily outperformed by the VW even under the most extreme temperature conditions because there are no radiator problems in the VW. The VW engine is air cooled, thus there are no leaks, rust or antifreeze problems particular to conventional cars. Any time, summer or winter, day or night, the VW is ready to go anywhere.

A suggested revised paragraph can be found here.

Editing for Style: Tired Phrases

Some phrases do not help the student’s writing. These old and tired phrases take up space, slow down the reader and distract the writer from communicating his or her idea in the simplest way possible.

Here are some of those phrases:

  1. not only …  but
  2. such as
  3. and so on
  4. the following
  5. due to the fact that
  6. at all times
  7. at the present time
  8. in most cases

Quick Editing Exercise

Read these sentences. How can you rewrite them to remove the tired words and phrases and make the ideas stronger and clearer?

  1. In today’s fast paced modern world, finding out the true facts in foreign affairs and business is becoming increasingly difficult.
  2. I am writing for the purpose of updating our information. Would you be kind enough to give this matter your full attention and consideration?
  3. It is the belief of everyone who was involved that during the time that we were away someone broke in for the purpose of robbery, despite the fact that we had taken full and complete precautions.
  4. I would like you to obtain for me a duplicate copy of the invoice which is dated March 1, 2012.
  5. Our expansion and modernization plans are proceeding on time, as scheduled.










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