Online Writing Lab

10 Guidelines for Better Writing

Other than the rules that govern grammar and punctuation use, there are no set rules for essay writing.  There are, however, guidelines that can be followed to make any essay better, regardless of the type of essay that is being written or the content area that the essay is for.  Following the guidelines below can make sure that any essay is effective. 

#1 – Create a strong thesis – A paper without a strong thesis is like a car without a proper steering wheel: it is bound to have many problems.  A good thesis is the foundation for a well–written essay.  For help developing a thesis statement, see our page that explains thesis statements and our thesis statement exercise.

#2 – Allow the thesis to do its job – Now that you have created a good thesis statement, make sure that everything in the paper relates to the thesis sentence.  If some of the writing doesn’t, it needs to be eliminated or revised to connect to the thesis in a relevant way. 

#3 – Back up any and all claims – All claims made in a paper need to be supported.  If you, as the writer, are asking the reader to simply take your word for something, you have failed.    Instead, use some form of evidence to back them up; the most common form of evidence is the correct use and citation of outside sources.  More on using outside sources

#4 – Avoid addressing the reader directly – This means not writing with the universal “you” (writing in the 2nd person); doing this leads to confusion.  Instead, all writers should stick to writing in the 3rd person.  More discussion on the different points of view in writing

#5 – Use transitions – Transitions are an important element in any essay since they show how different ideas and/or topics are connected.  Transitions are needed at all levels: between larger ideas, such as paragraphs, and between smaller ideas, such as between sentences.  Effective transitions allow an essay to be unified.  For help with transitions, view the transitions page on our website.

#6 – Avoid vague pronoun use – A reader must always be clear what any pronoun (they, them, their, etc.) is alluding to.  If the pronoun can have multiple meanings, it must be eliminated or clarified.   For further explanation of pronouns, see our page on the parts of speech.

#7 –Vary sentence length – Writing that contains lots of short sentences seems choppy, while writing that contains many long sentences often seems wordy; the best writing contains sentences with a variety of lengths: some short, some medium, some long.  A writer is always in control of sentence length, and good writers intentionally create simple, compound, and complex sentences to provide variety.  More on different sentence types

#8 – Vary word choice – Most writers favor certain words and tend to overuse them.  Also, depending on the assignment, many writers struggle to come up with new words to describe important concepts.  However, good writing incorporates a variety of words, and writers should avoid the excessive repetition of certain words and/or phrases.  In order to find new words and keep the writing fresh, consult a thesaurus, which is a valuable tool for any writer.

#9 – Avoid wordiness – If a sentence contains unnecessary words, these words should be eliminated.  Unnecessary words simply clog up writing and detract from the overall quality.   All sentences should convey information in a straightforward manner and should be clear and concise.

#10 – Always use the active voice, unless the passive voice is absolutely necessary – The active voice is the preferred form.  For more on the difference between active and passive voice, see our active vs. passive voice page that explains the difference.