ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Write Well: Keep Your Readers Interested

Updated on November 5, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

The wise have always found time and ways to read
The wise have always found time and ways to read | Source

Be A Reader

Yes, believe it or not, one of the main keys to being a good writer is to be a reader. Turn off the TV and pick up a book. Read if from cover to cover. See what the author has to say. Decide if you like their writing style. Analyze the story from all levels.

In a way, it is like being back in school and doing a book report. You have to think of the same kinds of questions the teachers put forth way back then. The difference is, you can do it all in your head. You don't have to write a paper, and you won't be graded.

Figure out the specific reasons why you liked or did not like the book. If you want, you can keep a journal of books you've read, with brief notes on your feelings. Did the book keep you so interested that you could not stop turning pages until you finished, even though it was two in the morning? Did the book bore you to the point of falling asleep on the couch? Answer the question "Why?" in either case.

The more you read, the better a writer you will become. After all, the goal of any writer is to have readers who will read their works. Without discovering your own tastes in reading, you will have trouble with your own offerings.

Keep It Simple

The "K.I.S.S." (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle is important when writing. Some authors, (James Michener springs to mind) get away with very long sentences that are full paragraphs all by themselves. However, to avoid the sentence becoming a twisted mess that no one can understand takes years of practice. Even so, not all authors can get away with it, and even Michener does it sparingly. As a beginning writer, don't try it!

You have to understand that, sad though it may be, you are writing for an audience with approximately an eighth grade reading level. Even high school graduates these days don't read much better than that, thanks to all the budget cuts to our schools and the resulting slashes to teaching staff. There are many other reasons for this, but they all amount to the "dumbing-down" of our schools.

This has been going on for years. Even my own Associate in Arts degree is about equal to my mother's high-school-only education. Today's graduates from four-year institutions probably have about the equivalent of a two-year degree in my mother's day. Sad, but true.

Knowing that, there is no point in using five-dollar words. Not many of your potential readers will know what they mean, and people reading for enjoyment do not like to be constantly sent to the dictionary to figure out what you are saying. Most won't bother; they'll just skim over unfamiliar words, and if there are too many of them, they'll simply stop reading your story.

For example, If you say about a character, "She felt a heated effulgence spreading across her physiognomy," your readers will say, "HUH? What the heck does that mean?" Instead use the simpler words and phrases such as, "She blushed," or, "She was embarrassed."

In the above example, "physiognomy" refers to the face, and it is a (deliberate) mistake to use it this way. The actual definition of the word in its first sense means the study of the facial features in an attempt to determine a person's character.

"Effulgence" means to shine with great brilliance. Yes, you certainly feel that way if you have been embarrassed and blushed, but the word is more fitting to describe a sunrise in the desert.

So, before you use any big words with lots of syllables to impress people, you need to be sure of the meaning, or you risk looking the fool. Saying something with fewer words is usually better, but that doesn't mean words understood only by university professors.

A good rule of thumb is, if you have to look up a word to figure out its meaning, so will your readers, so use a different word.

The Writer's Bibles

There are three books no writer should be without. A good dictionary, a thesaurus, and a grammar and style guide.

The Dictionary

Writer or not, no home should be without a dictionary. It is a great reference book, and in addition to the definitions of words, also gives their origins, often from other languages. This in turn gives us a better understanding of why we have so many crazy spellings in English.

A dictionary can also increase your own vocabulary, if you let it. Sure, you'll learn those obscure and multi-syllable words, but that just enriches your own educational experience. Knowing "big words" doesn't mean you have to use them in your own writing--but it will allow you to understand them in others' writings, adding to your range of enjoyable things to read.

These books are the most important ones in the writer's arsenal.
These books are the most important ones in the writer's arsenal. | Source

The Thesaurus

A thesaurus is the next basic reference book you need. It's function is to give you all those alternate words, so that if you look up "prevaricate," you'll find the synonyms: "equivocate, lie, quibble." So to call someone a prevaricator is to essentially call them a liar. But there are shades of meaning within that.

Now you can go on a detective hunt, looking up each of those in turn, and find that they all mean similar, but not quite exactly the same thing. "Equivocate," for example, means to speak in a manner using equivocal (similar, not quite the same) terms to deliberately mislead, hedge or deceive. Perhaps not an outright lie, but not exactly the truth, either. For a perfect example of the meaning of "equivocate," think, "politician." If their mouth is moving, chances are they are equivocating.

My mother and I used to have great fun with this word play, and often would look up a word, and "get lost" in the dictionary or thesaurus for some time, finding new words, alternate meanings and origins. For us, it was fun.

The Grammar and Style Guide

The final entry on this list, a grammar and style guide, is important because poor grammar marks you as a poor writer. Many people feel that a poor writer is also unable to do good research, and therefore you lose credibility. How can anyone trust what you say if you can't even construct a sentence correctly?

There are many stumbling blocks in this area, and some of the most common ones involve third-party references. This is where the "who/whom" issue comes up. Which do you use? Well, to give an over-simplified example, you use "who" when you are directly referring to a person at hand. "Who are you?" "Who is that?"

You use "whom" when you refer to someone not there at the moment, such as when taking a phone call, "With whom did you wish to speak?"

Use Correct Spelling

I've given this its own section because just like grammar, it is important to how people view your writing skills. If you are a poor speller, a book such as the Misspeller's Dictionary is a great help.

I bought this book for my late husband and it helped him greatly. Even though he possessed a near genius I.Q., he struggled mightily with the vagaries of English spelling, and was constantly asking me how to spell a good many words. The trick is, you look up the word according to how you think it is spelled, and it gives you the correct spelling.

Beware, however, of "spell-checker" programs, both here on Hub Pages, or in your own word-processing program. Neither of them catch context errors. Those are the mistakes that happen when a same or similar-sounding word gets used in the wrong sense. The spell-checker won't catch it, because it's a properly spelled word that has simply been used incorrectly.

One of the most often seen of this type of mistake is folks mixing up "then" and "than." "Then" refers to a point in time; "than" is for making a comparison. I give examples of both and more in the hub I wrote cautioning people about giving writing advice. In that article I make the point, which I repeat here: "spell check is not equal to word check."

Just the Basics

In this article, I've given the basics you need to write well. Feel free to explore and expand on your own, and learn what fun it is to dive into the history of words.

Play with them, use them. Practice with them. By all means, try your hand at writing things both with obscure, complicated language, as if you were writing a speech for a politician, then re-write it in plain English that anyone can understand. You'll be amazed at what you, personally, learn from the exercise, and you will gain important writing skills to entice your readers.

As an imperfect human myself, I realize I tread on dangerous ground in this article, but I've done my best to be very careful. Happy writing!

© 2011 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment
  • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

    gyanendra mocktan 

    2 years ago from Kathmandu,Nepal

    Liz Elias, I need to read this article repeatedly. So that, it remains firmly in my head. And let those ideas come out naturally in my writing. Thank you.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thank you, gyanendra, I'm pleased you found the article useful.

  • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

    gyanendra mocktan 

    2 years ago from Kathmandu,Nepal

    Liz Elias, Thank you for your practical tips on writing. I am trying to my best go for words as have shown here. Thank you again.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, alwaysexploring,

    Thanks very much for your kind words. I'm most pleased that you found this article interesting and helpful. Your comment is appreciated.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    7 years ago from Southern Illinois

    This was very interesting. I want to be a good writer. Thank you for an article that teaches with examples. I learned a lot. Thank you....

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, RBJ33,

    I'm glad you liked the article; thanks for the compliment.

    I've seen that quote before, about writing a shorter letter, time permitting. Funny on the surface, but so true of taking the time to edit.

    Absolutely proofread your articles. I try to do that several times; alas, I'm only human, and despite my care, I do now and then find goofs that made it past several re-reads. When I find them, I fix them.

    Thanks much for stopping by and adding your perspective.

  • RBJ33 profile image


    8 years ago

    Better late than never - just happened onto you hub - good stuff, thank you.

    "If I had more time I'd write a shorter letter." Most of us use too many words. Also I would advise that you read, and then re-read your article before turning it loose.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Sturgeonl--

    Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you found something useful here.

  • Sturgeonl profile image


    9 years ago

    I am always looking for ways to improve my writing. Thank you for the tips.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    "thesingernurse"--hello--nice to meet you.

    Thank you very much for your praise. I'm pleased that you liked the article.

  • thesingernurse profile image

    Tina Siuagan 

    9 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

    Simple, informative, and straight-forward. Glad I've read a hub from a good writer. :) Thanks!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello there, htodd--

    Thanks very much for your input and compliment.

  • htodd profile image


    9 years ago from United States

    Engaging your readers is really very important ..Great post

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, mljdgulley354--

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm pleased you found something to take away from the article. Cheers!

  • mljdgulley354 profile image


    9 years ago

    I am so glad to see these writing tips. I love to read but never thought of doing a journal and tearing the story a part to see what kept me reading. Thank you for sharing this hub

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Peggy W--

    Thank you so much for your kind words and the votes!

    I know what you mean--I always loved word games, and my mom and I used to play Scrabble all the time. I'm good, but she nearly always beat me, crossword-puzzle addict that she was; she liked the really difficult ones with lots of obscure words. ;-)

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    9 years ago from Houston, Texas

    I grew up loving to read and playing word games like Probe. This is a good reminder of what we should all strive to achieve when writing articles. Excellent hub! Voted up and useful.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Jeri Sheppard--

    Thank you very much for the compliment. I'm pleased you found it useful. I'll have to make a note of that book--it sounds like a great reference work.

    @ kelleyward--

    Thank you so much for your input and sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you found worthwhile nuggets in the article. ;-)

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Thanks for your hub. Your words reminded me of the importance of paying attention to the writing style and what I like or don't like about the books I'm currently reading. Interesting points!

  • profile image

    Jeri Sheppard 

    9 years ago

    This Hub was wonderful! It's an excellent reminder that a writer needs to read, and keep things simple. (One book that really reminded me that it was reading that made me want to write in the first place is a book called "Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them" by Francine Prose [quotes, because I can't underline! D:], which really helps a writer focus on the analysis part of the reading.) Thanks a lot!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, poetvix--

    Thanks much for stopping by. I often feel I may be 'preaching to the choir' with such topics here on Hub Pages, so I'm pleased to know you found it useful.

  • poetvix profile image


    9 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

    Thank you for the tips. I have to admit to having problems in two of the aforementioned areas myself. I find some of the best hubs are those that are useful and this one is most definitely that.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    P.S. After years of holding out, I finally broke down and got an e-reader. But then, I already loved to read. If the schools and teachers do not first produce students who enjoy reading, all the e-readers in the world won't fix that.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Kevin Faulkner--

    Thank you for your thoughts. Sadly, the schools have indeed come to expect less and less from their students. It began many years ago with the "discovery" that inner-city children from disadvantaged homes had more trouble in school. Instead of helping them with additional tutoring, the schools' response was to change the curriculum to make it easier for these students, so that it could APPEAR they were performing better, and avoid 'damaging their psyches,' or hurting the little darlings' feelings.

    The end result WAS and continues to be a "dumbing down" of the educational system, as teachers now spend all their time "teaching to a test" instead of providing genuine education.

    I scoff at these so-called 'tests' which prove nothing, and I must also ask--how much MORE 'damaged' is a person's psyche when they emerge from school unable to read properly or obtain a job due to their educational deficit? It damages for life. Hurt feelings can be healed, and in the end, the student will thank the teacher who pushed.

    All students have been done a severe disservice as a result of these changes, including the ones the new sub-standard 'standards' were purported to help.

  • profile image

    Kevin Faulkner 

    9 years ago

    Sound and thoughtful advice. Not so much dumbing down more write as if English is the reader's second language perhaps. But I agree, the great age of literacy has long gone and may never return. Imagination dwindles, Hollywood, TV and the electronic age have stunted reading literacy and concentration, only Kindle offers hope to a revived love of the Word !

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, tirelesstraveler--

    I think you are right to be horrified at such meager selections. Goodness, but I may count myself fortunate that my father refused to have a TV in the house (although I did not feel fortunate when I was a kid--I felt out of the loop with my peers).

    I blame the TV culture in large part, and my generation was the first to be raised in the era of TV as entertainment, so of course, as parents, the trend was continued and expanded upon. Then came the electronic games and the internet, bringing with them a severe lack of patience and any ability to sit still and concentrate for more than 5 minutes at a time.

    I thank you kindly for your input and your compliment.

  • tirelesstraveler profile image

    Judy Specht 

    9 years ago from California

    After a trip to the youth room in our local library I am not so sure it is only budget cuts in schools that are causing all the problems. I was horrified. The non-fiction books were the size of picture books. None of the non-fiction books had more than 50 pages. In a world where kids will read nearly a 1,000 words of Harry Potter they won't touch anything that is remotely stretching in the real world. I get this information from a friend that is a librarian in a prep school.

    This is an amazingly good hub with solid ideas and applications.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA


    Thanks so very much. Your comment and input are appreciated. I'm glad you liked the article.


    LOL on the 'argument usage' of pricey words! Yes--I recall an "on-paper argument" back when my kids were in grammar school...we were fighting with the school board to get rid of the principal of the school...(he should never have been in education to start with).. but, our parents' group had been promised use of a certain room, (among other things), and it turned out, he wanted to be a dictator, and get rid of the parents' presence, so was pulling the rug out from under us. I wrote a letter to the school board, using those $5 words to call the man an unreliable, lying S.O.B. ;-)

    We were granted a hearing, and won our point. (That principal was later removed by the police for investigation of some nefarious shenannigans!)

  • stephhicks68 profile image

    Stephanie Marshall 

    9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

    Very great tips! I only use the $5 words when I'm in an argument with my husband... LOL! But seriously, writing well is a gift that comes naturally to some people, but everyone can learn to improve their writing to be more effective at communicating in general!

  • randomcreative profile image

    Rose Clearfield 

    9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    Great advice! I definitely agree that the best way to be a better writer is to be a better reader. I also agree with the "dumbing down" that has occurred in our education system. It's very sad to watch. Writers should be aware of this and write to their audiences appropriately.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, nifwiseirff--

    Thanks so much for your compliment and that additional input. You make an important point about non-native speakers not understanding American idioms and (sometimes offbeat) usage. I'm thinking that perhaps I should go back and re-edit the piece to speak about a secondary dictionary of slang and idioms, instead of just listing it in the book references section.

    Even there, I debated about using "thesauruses" or "thesauri," and decided that in the spirit of the article to go with the former as more understandable--both are accepted plurals--and many readers don't understand the "i" plural ending of Latin and Latin-root words; cactus/cacti, etc.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Great advice. Especially about turning off the tv. With the huge growth of reality tv, we have even less things for our imagination to grow on. I also like the piece on big words. I agree sometimes less is more. Voted up, useful and interesting.

  • profile image

    Kymberly Fergusson 

    9 years ago from Germany

    Well written, and important!

    Dictionaries, thesauri and at times, even translation software are important, but care needs to be taken. As an English teacher (ESL), I see so many problems caused by non-native English speakers accepting the first translation listed for a word in their dictionary!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, homesteadbound--

    Thanks much for your kind comment. I think people avoid these books and the lessons inside because of past teaching methods. Learning should always be fun...because it is FUNdamental!

  • homesteadbound profile image

    Cindy Murdoch 

    9 years ago from Texas

    Very good advice. There are times when we all need a little help from our friends - the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the grammar and style guide. We need to treat them like friends and not something to be avoided.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ typeface--thanks very much for your kind words. I'd be happy to look over your hub.

    @ Ytsenoh--I'm pleased you found the article useful. Thank you for your comment, and added bit of information.

    @ phdast7--Thank you very much for your kind words.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 

    9 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Nice work. Advice that all of us, some more than others, need to remember. Thanks for the simple clear explication of the basics of good writing.

  • ytsenoh profile image


    9 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    This was a very informative hub and I agree the best advice includes read, read, read. Reading and writing go together like a hand in a glove. It cannot be overstated enough the value of reading. Spell-checking is good, and proofreading is a necessity. I also find dropping unnecessary words such as "that" or "the" is helpful advice too. Thanks for your hub of reminders!

  • typeface profile image


    9 years ago

    This was really interesting! I am new to Hubpages and would really appreciate it if you could have a look over my first hub and see what you think?

    Thanks for a really helpful hub!



This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)