sssHere I offer advice to improve your writing style.  What is style? Suppose that a stimulus has multiple purposes. Then style refers to all the ways a stimulus can be changed while maintaining its primary purspose. For example, if we assume that the primary purpose of a letter, such as “A,”  is to be read then these letters differ in style:  “A” vs “A.” Although both letters can be read, they differ in style because the second letter is purple. Why care? Long ago,  purple dye could only be made from scarce and costly materials and so purple signaled wealth.

sssNow compare this text “Teachers provide a variety of instructional techniques that engage students toward shared ownership of their proficiency. Responsive instruction, through progress monitoring, provides students what they need in a timely manner and incorporates best practices to meet the needs of individual students. Individualized learning plans are used to meet unique student nuances, reflect different levels of competency and learning styles, and apply differentiated strategies.” with this text “By knowing each student’s needs and capabilities as well as frequently monitoring each student’s progress, teachers appropriately instruct each student.”  Both texts can be read but they differ in style because the second  text is clear and concise. What does unclear, wordy text signal?  Surely not something good.

sss To help you improve your writing style, this site uses four procedures: (1) instructions, (2) examples, (3) practice, and (4) constructive feedback.

sssUUnique here is that practice and constructive feedback are provided by using Power Point to present sets of slides. These sets include hundreds of texts, ripe for revision. Work through a set many times over a week until you feel comfortable, as might an expert editor. Don’t memorize answers. Practice revising until you almost automatically revise much as you automatically ride a bicycle or read with comprehension.

sssWhen working through the sets many times you may: (1) download a set from this site and start with the original text or (2) revise your revisions (assuming you have saved the set you had revised). The second procedure mimics the revision process of accomplished writers who may edit a dozen times, over several weeks, before judging their writing effective.

sssAs you repeatedly revise text in a set, you will encounter slides in a fixed order.  So when you finish a set and seek to review your work, it may be desirable to present the slides in a new order. Each Power Point set has software that will reorder the slides. The software is written in VBA. When you download and open a set a security warning will appear indicating VBA’s presence.  Do click the Enable Content button to use the unit.

sssOne “flaw” with these sets is that each slide contains one or more contrived clues that indicate revision opportunities, for example “wordy” and “cohesion.”  But these cues are absent in natural writing contexts. So it’s desirable to remove these cues and construct cumulative sets comprised of slides from multiple sets. (If the sets are not mixed then the entire set may become a cue for a particular kind of problem such as wordiness). You could master these cumulative sets without clues after mastering sets with cues.  Using such mixed sets is called cumulative practice; it is a powerful procedure. Constructing cumulative sets is a task for the future.  Meanwhile, if you seek practice revising without contrived cues then try revising a few manuscripts at the National Undergraduate Research Clearing House. The clearinghouse offers a “gold mine” of editing opportunities.

    Most of  the editing advice offered here is based on the work of the late Joseph M. Williams and the various editions of his text Style Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. I am particularly fond of the sixth edition (2000). It is well-crafted and can be purchased now (2/14/2013) on the WWW for just $5 including shipping.

    Joseph Williams’ advice helped me transform this:

Cocaine has been identified as one of the most powerful reinforcers currently known. Similar to the reinforcing properties of many drugs of abuse, the pharmacological effects of cocaine have been linked to the modulation of dopamine release, particularly within terminal fields of the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic pathways such as the nucleus accumbens. These pharmacological effects of abused drugs do not, however, directly explain the cognitive deficits often seen in chronic drug users. For example, chronic cocaine abusers display impairment on tests of memory function, attention, and inhibitory control.

to this:

One of the most powerful reinforcers is cocaine. Like other abused drugs, it modulates dopamine release particularly within terminal fields of the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic pathways such as the nucleus accumbens. These pharmacological effects do not, however, well explain why chronic drug users perform poorly on various cognitive tests including those assessing memory function, attention, and inhibitory control.

As I revised I spoke to myself. You can view my self-talk here.


Besides Joseph Williams I am indebted to the late Rochelle (Dubovy Sherman) Hart (my eighth grade English teacher), Ellen S. Berscheid (my dissertation adviser), and the late B. F. Skinner.  I am also indebted to the many students at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee who completed “Seminar on Writing in Psychology,” and “Applied Behavior Analysis”; and to students, staff, and faculty who offered advice or texts for this project. These persons include:  Shelby Asmussen, Whitney Boeder, Barbara Bohachek, Beth Felch, Jeremy Fuller, Frank Gallo, Anthony Greene, Michael Hynan, Christine Larson, Han Joo Lee, Marcus Leppanen, Susan Lima, Jay Moore, Alisa Morrison, Devin Mueller, David Osmon, Patrick Riley, Megan Schiltz, David Trejo, Dana Troullier, Victoria Wu, and anonymous donors.