12 Rules For Readable Writing

In works of literary fiction and certain other genres, writers are judged by their ability to use words in mellifluous, clever, and surprising ways.

But with non-fiction book on health, business, success, and similar works, readers are not interested in verbal adornment. They want to know what they need to know. Good writing is a must, but writing that interferes with understanding is a must-not.

Your writing can be very readable and persuasive if you remember that you’re just talking to your readers. So use plain old English. Be brief and to the point, be clear, and always be positive.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these 12 rules.

#1: Keep it Simple

You’re writing a non-fiction book, perhaps on about health, law, or business.

It’s describes your great new idea, and it’s intended for the popular press. That is, for regular folks, not experts.

So – what style of writing should you use?

Unless there’s a good reason not to, keep it simple.

Always remember why you’re writing: to persuade or move your readers. The best way to do that is to keep it simple. Don’t try to impress your readers with 50-cent words or overly-complex sentences. Just talk to them. Say what you want to say in simple, clear English.

Resist the temptation to be amazing! Instead, just “talk” to your readers.

Inspiring, or yawn-inducing? 

“I have a dream…” Four little words, simple, clear, powerful.

Much better than: “Impulses speeding along the neurons of my frontal lobes, leaping across the synaptic gaps, presenting themselves to me in the form of, as it were, a nocturnal visitation, coupled with simultaneous impulses in the speech and movement sections of my cortex, have compelled me to express this thought.”

“To be or not to be, that is the question,” is clear and to the point.

Much better than: “When reflecting upon the relationship between the pre-deceased and post-living, one cannot help but be struck by the magnitude of advantages inevitably accruing to the individual terminating the former state, yet, simultaneously, measure the aforementioned advantages against the potential deleterious outcome arising from the abovee-referenced activity.”

The point is to express ideas, not dazzle the readers with your word mastery

Dazzled readers become baffled readers who put your book down and tell their friends not to buy it. So keep it simple.

But don’t worry about looking simplistic, for using simple language does not mean that your writing will be simple-minded. Simple words, placed in simple but elegant sentences, can express complex ideas and convey powerful emotions.

#2: Keep the Pomposity Factor Low

How “elevated” should your writing be?

Well, when was the last time you walked up to someone and said, “As per our conversation of the 10th, I wish to provide additional information which prior to this time was not available.”

It’s probably been awhile since you said anything like that to someone, and it certainly should be a very long while before you write anything like that.

Effective writing does not require a special vocabulary, extra complex rules of grammar, verbosity or pomposity

You do not need to write: “Having ascertained the deleterious effects of the said product when utilized in the manner recently brought to our attention by the above-referenced, we shall recommend that it be used in only the prescribed manner.”

It’s perfectly okay to write, “Now that we’re aware of the problem, we’ll devise rules for using the product safely.”

Neither should you feel compelled to write: “Upon receipt of the information described here within, we shall immediately endeavor to bring the project to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The language in that sentence is slippery: Who is supposed to send the information? What is a satisfactory conclusion?

It’s simpler and much clearer to write: “We’ll finish the project as soon as you send the information.”

Be simple and direct

Don’t write as you imagine a pompous diplomat would speak. Instead, keep the pomposity factor low. Talk to the reader, using pen instead of voice.

Get rid of phrases such as: “Recognizing that one can actualize the beneficial potential of said program by effectualizing the process,” and “Allow me to reflect upon the nostalgia induced by the introduction of keepsakes to my memory.”

Unless you talk that way, don’t write that way. (And even if you do talk that way, don’t write that way.)

Just talk to your readers, plain and simple.

Which is easier to understand?

This: “Cephalic pain-relief of the common variety is generally effectively achieved with the oral introduction of medications of an analgesic nature specifically formulated from the original German formula to reduce the above referenced pain.”

Or this: Aspirin usually relieves headache pain.

This: The hundredth part of a dollar, when segregated from funds earmarked for expenditure, is equivalent to the same acquired as compensation for merchandise or services provided

Or this: A penny saved is a penny earned.

This: Thus you can see that my point, when viewed in the proper perspective, and according to guidelines of the parameters previously agreed upon, harmonizes with the arguments presented in favor of the position you have defended.

Or this: I agree.

#3: Short Sentences Are Sweet Sentences

The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words long.

The 23rd Psalm is made up of 118 words.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contains 226 words.

The Ten Commandments are spelled out in about 300 words.

On the other hand, the “US Department of Agriculture Directive on Pricing Cabbage” is 15,629 words long! If length were all that mattered, the cabbage-pricing manual book would be a masterpiece.

It’s the weight of an idea or argument that counts, not its length

Your words don’t have to be big, your sentences needn’t be long, and your paragraphs don’t have to span several pages in order to impress your reader. In fact, most of the time you’ll make a better impression with modest sized words, sentences and paragraphs.

This sentence, for example, is way too long: “Work overload, which involves workers being required to perform too much activity in the allotted time frame, has been shown in many studies conducted in both government and non-government settings in several countries to cause increased gastric acid production, increased pepsin secretion and increased levels of serum pepsinogen, all of which may, acting either independently or collectively, lead to an inflammation of the lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract, a decrease in the ability of the mucosal barrier system to work, and, as a consequence, peptic ulcer disease symptoms in susceptible workers, with its attendant pain and epigastric tenderness.” (And yes, this is an actual sentence taken from a medical doctor’s report.)

That single sentence contains 98 words and several ideas, making it hard to follow.

The idea comes across much better in five sentences such as these: “Work overload occurs when workers are given too much work to do in the allotted time. This phenomenon has been examined in many studies conducted in several countries, involving both government and non-government settings. Results show that work overload causes increased gastric acid production, increased pepsin secretion, and increased serum pepsinogen levels. Individually and collectively, these increases may lead to an inflammation of the lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract and a decrease in the ability of the mucosal barrier system to work. In susceptible workers, this results in peptic ulcer disease symptoms, including the attendant pain and epigastric tenderness.”

Here’s another: “I am referring your grant proposal to our Grant Department, which reviews and processes proposals on a university-wide basis, since we have found through experience that this is the most expedient method, and for the additional reason that any one of our professional staff may be working on a proposal overlapping your own, and either an elimination of one, or a combining of two or more similar proposals, might be more efficacious.”

That’s another long sentence that defies easy understanding. It’s much easier to read and understand when written this way: “I am referring your proposal to our Grant Department, which reviews and processes proposals on a university-wide basis. Experience has taught us that sending all grants through this department expedites the process. It’s also an effective way to eliminate or combine overlapping proposals.” More sentences, fewer words, easier understanding.

There’s no law that says a sentence can only contain a certain number of words or ideas. So how can you tell if it’s too long? A sentence is too long if it contains so many words or ideas that it cannot be easily understood. Another rule of thumb: If it’s more than three lines long, it’s probably too long. When in doubt, read the sentence out loud to someone else. If he or she can’t easily follow the ideas, break the sentence up.

#4: Trash the Extra Words

A sentence should be no longer than it needs to be.

You don’t get brownie points for adding extra words. In fact, getting rid of extra words will help make your sentences more understandable.

Take, for example, this sentence: “The presence in this plant of a significant degree of nuclear radiation has been judged to be of a rather low likelihood by the engineer interpreter of the tests.”

That can be slimmed down into the more readable: “The engineer who studied the tests determined there was an insignificant level of nuclear radiation in the plant.”

Twenty-nine words become 18, and are much easier to read.

Don’t take all day trying to say what you want to say

Just say it! Here are some more examples of overly-long sentences:

  • “For an athlete, training is an essential part of his success, for the athlete depends upon his body to produce whatever results are necessary in order to excel and win.” Instead, how about: “Training is vital to the athlete, who depends upon his body for success,” or “Athletic excellence depends on training.”
  • “What I will discuss are the five major contributing factors which help our bodies to become the way they are.” Instead, how about: “Let’s examine the five major factors which shape the body.”
  • “Physical trauma is a very common contributor toward throwing the rotor assembly, its alignment and various constituents out of balance.” Instead, how about: “Physical trauma often throws the rotor assembly out of balance.”

They’re just in the way

Extra words and phrases are to writing what “ahs” and “ums” are to speaking – fillers, time-wasters, things you say or write when nothing else comes to mind. They also get in the way of the real meaning.

Here are some popular unnecessary extras, with suggested substitutions in parentheses:

  • What it is, is… (It is)
  • To be that of… (To be)
  • What I will do is… (I will)
  • There are noted to be… (There are)
  • At this point in time… (Now)
  • Make a recommendation that… (Recommend)
  • Perform a study of… (Study)
  • Of a difficult nature… (Difficult)
  • As to whether… (Whether)
  • A history of having had… (A history of)
  • She is someone who… (She)

Blessed are the brief, for they shall be read!

#5: Combine For Clarity

Can sentences be too short?

Yes.

Too-tiny sentences can be annoying because they spread a modest amount of information across several sentences. Making your sentences too small forces you to add unnecessary words and to chop up ideas and descriptions.

For example: “See Dick. See Dick run. Dick is running to the Board Room. Dick is the CEO. The Board wants to fire Dick. The company is not doing well.” These sentences are simple and clear, but create a choppy paragraph.

Combine short sentences to smooth the flow. If one short sentence explains or modifies another diminutive one, the two can probably be combined. For example:

“The house has a beautiful garden,” is better than, “The house has a garden. The garden is beautiful.”

“The new gasoline resulted in higher prices and more pollution,” is better than, “The new gasoline has problems. The problems include higher prices and more pollution.”

“Monocytes engulf and kill antigens,” is better than, “Monocytes engulf antigens. Once they’ve engulfed the antigens, they kill them.” (The first five words of the second sentence only repeat the last two words of the first.)

Apply the same principle to phrases within a sentence.

  • Instead of, “He had a watch on his right wrist; it is a large watch,” try “He had a large watch on his right wrist.”
  • Instead of, “The horse is a female, she is three years old,” try “The horse is a three-year old female.”
  • Instead of, “Various types of scientists contributed to the vaccine. The types ranged from biologists to zoologists,” try “Various types of scientists, ranging from biologists to zoologists, contributed to the vaccine.”

#6: Favor the Active Voice

Which is better, the active or passive voice?

When writing a non-fiction book, should you write about the actor, or the action? In other words, should you use the active voice or the passive voice?

As a general rule, the active voice is better than the passive voice.

The active voice is more authoritative, to the point, and, well, more active than the passive voice.

The passive voice is useful but tends to be overused, watering down the text and slowing the reader.

What’s active and what’s passive?

Think of sentences as containing an actor and an action. If the actor does the action, the sentence is active. If the action is done by the actor, the sentence is passive.

  • “Joe hit Bob,” is active. (The actor, Joe, performs an action.)
  • “Bob was hit by Joe,” is passive. (The action, hitting, was done by Joe.)
  • “The nurse gave an injection,” is active. (The actor, the nurse, performs an action.)
  • “The injection was given by the nurse,” is passive. (The action, injecting, was performed by the nurse.)
  • “Greg is taking medicine,” is active. (The actor, Greg, performs an action.)
  • “The medicine is being taken by Greg,” is passive. (The action, taking medicine, was performed by Greg.)

Sentences may get more complex, but the idea is the same

In the sentence, “Determined to find chocolate milk, Howard drove his new car six miles across town to the market,” “Howard” is the actor, and “drove” is the action. This is an active sentence because the actor (Howard) is acting (driving). The sentence becomes passive if worded like this: “The new car was driven six miles across town to the market by Howard, who was determined to find chocolate milk.”

Notice how vigorous and direct the active approach is:

  • “Joshua passed the test.”
  • “Melanie purchased a briefcase.”
  • “The Ethics Committee reported…”
  • “Cholera ravaged the town.”

The reader immediately knows who or what is acting, and can form a mental image.

Images come a little slower with passive sentences

Passive sentences are not as strong or direct as active sentences:

  • “The test was passed by Joshua.”
  • “The briefcase was purchased by Melanie.”
  • “It was reported by the Ethics Committee that…”
  • “The town was ravaged by the disease.”

Active sentences focus attention on the actor, passive sentences on the action

If you were writing about Thomas Edison you would say, “Thomas Edison invented the telephone.” Saying, “The telephone was invented by Thomas Edison,” switches the emphasis to the telephone.

Since active construction focuses on the actor, it’s easy to assign credit or blame when the writing is active. For example, given the sentence: “The pounds are made to melt away,” you don’t know who to thank. Explaining that, “The Smith Diet melts the pounds away,” tells the reader who is responsible. Some people use the passive voice on purpose, hoping to weasel out of a problem:

  • “Design errors crept into the study,” is a way of trying not to say, “I made a mistake.”
  • “The meta-analysis was conducted in a less-than-optimal manner,” is a “don’t look at me” way of explaining, “Our analysis was bad.”

Whoever wrote the two sentences shown above was obviously trying to keep the boss thinking about the “design errors” and the “meta-analysis,” not about the blunderer who made the mistakes!

The passive voice can be useful

There are times when you don’t want to focus on the actor, because the actor is not as important as the action is. For example:

  • “Workers were hired and the job was completed.”
  • “Based on the examination and test results, a diagnosis of depression was made.”
  • “Grants were given for development.”
  • “The book was released in 1982.”

Sometimes the actor is unknown:

  • “Money was developed to facilitate trade.”
  • “Primitive medical techniques were refined through the centuries.”

The passive voice is also nice for a change: “The right atrium pumps the blood down to the right ventricle. The right ventricle contracts, sending the blood to the lungs. Inside the lungs, the blood exchanges its carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen before returning to the left side of the heart. Rich with fresh oxygen, the blood is then propelled through the aorta to the body.” After three active sentences, a passive sentence (“Rich with fresh oxygen…”) is a pleasant change in tone.

Finally, the passive voice can be just what you want to say: “Our defense against disease is ably handled by the immune system,” or “Wastes are filtered from the fluid by the kidneys.”

Favor the active voice, using the passive when necessary, and for variety

However, you should avoid sentences so passive as to be unreadable:

“Posing for our cameras was enjoyed by natives, except in those places where there was the belief that the taking of an image robbed the person of the soul.” Three passive constructions in one sentence (“was enjoyed by the natives,” “there was the belief” and “the taking of an image”) makes the sentence awkward. Instead, try: “The natives liked posing for our camera, except in those places where they believed having their picture taken robbed them of their souls.”

There’s no absolute rule on active and passive sentences. Overuse is made of the passive, however, so favor the active.

#7: Skip The Jargon

Experts know all the buzz words and abbreviations, but most readers won’t.

For example, foreign policy experts know “MAD” stands for Mutual Assured Destruction, which was long our nation’s policy for preventing nuclear war.

Physicians know that “blue bloaters” and “pink puffers” describe people in specific types of respiratory distress, but the average reader might guess that they are some kind of fish.

It’s blah-blah to my ears

These buzz words, abbreviations and other verbal concoctions are known as jargon.

Jargon helps people communicate – if everybody understands it. But since jargon is usually only understood by those in the field, skip it when writing for anyone else. Stick with plain old English. Using just a dash jargon and immediately defining it can spice up your writing, but a lot of jargon, or any unexplained jargon at all, will make your writing unintelligible.

When penning a poem to your loved one, you could say:

“My darling, I have entered into a cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of my amorant feelings by the object of my amorance.”(1)

Yes, you could say that, but it’s probably better to simply say, “I love you.”

You’ll get a much better response.

—-

Notes: 1) The “My darling…” sentence was quoted from the book The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. William Morrow & Co., 1990, p. 19.

#8: Don’t Over-Love Yourself

Can you be too humble and modest in your writing?

If such an inferior writer as myself may be permitted to offer an opinion, I would hesitantly venture to say yes, although I would immediately and happily withdraw my assertion if just one of the countless writers more knowledgeable than myself would even hint that my answer falls short of perfection.

There’s no better way to sound phony than to fill your writing with unnecessary praise and oh-so-humble remarks, such as:

  • “In closing, I am most sincerely, humbly and respectfully yours…”
  • “Such an insignificant person as this author never imagined he would have the privilege of meeting such an illustrious person.”
  • “I feel unworthy of the great honor represented by the opportunity to present to you my ideas…”
  • “Kindly bear with me as my humble prose attempts to recreate…”

Excessive praise or humbleness often works against you

The more you tell people how modest or whatever it is you keep saying you are, the less they believe it. So don’t keep telling the reader how honored, privileged and humble you are. Let the feelings come through in the writing, all by themselves.

Instead of, “During my many years of training, I never imagined I would have the honor of assisting such an illustrious physician in performing such delicate and able surgery,” just say, “It was an honor to work with you.”

Instead of slathering on the praise eight layers thick with, “I’m always amazed at how astute Dr. Smith is in making rapid diagnoses in impossible cases that no one else can understand,” try “Dr. Smith saved another life with his rapid diagnosis of a difficult case.” A sincere compliment is much better than multiple awe-struck phrases that come across phony.

The same applies to negative descriptions, curses and other unflattering remarks

To say that, “Cancer is the scourge of mankind, a black hole in the cosmos of humanity, a leper among diseases, a cruel, vicious, heartless gutter-germ,” is just a bit much.

Calling cancer, “a black hole in the cosmos of humanity,” says about as little as praising a drug as, “the glittering gem in the princely tiara of pharmaceutical medicine.”

You can get the same idea across by writing, “Cancer, the number-two killer disease in the U.S. today, can be painful, prolonged, and fatal.” Whether praising or cursing, don’t pile it on too thick. Less is more.

#9: Tell Us What You’re Talking About

If you read this sentence, “He developed high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, something he had never had before,” would you know which ailment was new? The high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or both?

How about this: “He complains of frequent fatigue, pains in the lower back, chest pain and tightness.” Which is frequent; the fatigue, the back pain, the chest pain, the tightness, or all of them?

Clarity is essential

The reader must know exactly what you’re talking about. Let’s look again at, “He developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol, something he had never had before.”

  • If both the elevated blood pressure and cholesterol are new, you might write, “He developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol, neither of which he’d had before.”
  • If only the elevated blood pressure is new, you might write, “He developed high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. He had never had high blood pressure before.”
  • If only the elevated cholesterol is new, you might write, “He developed high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. He had never had elevated cholesterol before.”

These sentences won’t win a Pulitzer for poetry, but they are clear.

Let’s look at the sentence, “He complains of frequent fatigue, pains in the lower back, chest pain and tightness.”

  • If the fatigue is frequent but the other complaints are not, write, “He complains of frequent fatigue. He also complains of pains in the lower back, chest pain and tightness.” Now the reader knows which problems are frequent, and which are not.
  • If all of the symptoms are frequent, write, “He complains of fatigue, pains in the lower back, chest pain and tightness, all of which are frequent.”

Remember that your goal is to be crystal clear, not Shakespeare.

#10: Organize Your Material Logically

Describing your idea to your readers is kind of like putting together one of those “you assemble” computer desks that come in a box, complete with 30 pieces of fake wood, 62 screws, 61 washers, 17 do-hickeys and a few whatyoucall’ems.

If you don’t lay things out properly in the beginning, nothing works.

Yes, it’s tedious, but you have to lay everything out carefully, piece by piece, IN ORDER!, for it to work.

The same thing goes for your book. If ideas aren’t in order, with “Idea A” firmly connected to “Idea B,” and “Idea B” to “Idea C” and so on, your book won’t make a lot of sense to your readers. Or any sense at all.

Which of the following two passages is easier to understand?

This one: “As a consequence of his environmental exposures, he developed a cough, blackout spells, breathing difficulties, nausea, and was diagnosed as having asthma. He had headaches and irritation of the eyes, stomach aches, difficulty in concentrating, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, difficulty in hearing and ringing in the ears. He became more irritable, had dizziness, light-headedness and decreased sexual desire. His nose and throat were irritated. He was diagnosed as having Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”

Or this one: “As a consequence of his environmental exposures, he developed a cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. He had stomach aches and nausea. His eyes, nose and throat were irritated. He had headaches, ringing in the ears and difficulty in hearing. He felt lightheaded and dizzy, and had blackout spells. He had difficulty in concentrating, sleep disturbances and decreased sexual desire. He was diagnosed as having asthma and Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”

In the first passage, symptoms are strewn about randomly. The first diagnosis of asthma, which has to do with the respiratory system, is mentioned after nausea, a gastrointestinal problem. The second diagnosis, Anxiety Disorder, is mentioned after nose that throat irritation.

The second passage is easier to follow because the symptoms are grouped more logically. The respiratory symptoms are placed together, stomach aches and nausea are next to each other, and the eyes, nose and throat are grouped. The two diagnoses are mentioned after all the symptoms are listed.

Assist your readers by organizing your material logically

If listing symptoms, for example, list them by body part or system, head-to-toe or by cause. Any logical approach is better than simply splattering them onto the page.

Consider this passage: “He was hired as a laborer. He sanded plaques, he painted. He earned $4.00 an hour when he began working for the company in 1979. He had to find and expedite rush orders. He boxed all the shipments. He cleaned out the spray guns every evening. In the morning, he drove empty paint cans left by the night shift to the certified disposal area. He mixed paints to produce special colors during the day. He put labels on the boxes and figured the postage. He used a spray gun to paint. He sanded with a hand-held electric sander. He earned $12.23 an hour in 1992 after his promotion to manager.”

Everything is the above passage is understandable. But things don’t connect, don’t click automatically as you scan the words. Try this: “He was hired as a laborer in 1979, earning $4.00 an hour. He was promoted to manager in 1992 and earned $12.23 an hour. His duties involved sanding, painting and shipping plaques. He used a hand-held electric sander to sand, and a spray gun to paint. When he arrived in the morning, he took the empty paint cans left by the night shift to the certified disposal area. During the day he mixed paints to produce special colors, and located and expedited rush orders. He also boxed, labeled and figured the postage for shipments. And at the end of every work day, he cleaned out the spray guns.”

The organization of this passage helps the information stick in the reader’s mind. The dates, pay rates and titles are put together. A general overview (duties involved sanding, painting and shipping plaques) is given. Then the specifics are reviewed, beginning with what he did in the morning, ending with what he did at the end of the day.

There is no guaranteed, all-purpose organization scheme

Just group things from A to Z, head-to-toe, morning to evening, beginning to end, or any other logical way.

#11: Stick Your Neck Out

Speaking your mind can be frightening, but…

Imagine that you are sitting at your desk, reading a new book on the benefits of exercise.

Would you follow the exercise plan if the author proudly proclaimed, “Some of these exercises will affect you in a positive manner?” That’s not much of an endorsement.

You’d be much more impressed if the author said, “These exercises will strengthen your stomach,” or “Eighty-two percent of those following my program have cast-iron stomachs.”

Scientific journals are filled with sentences along the lines of this:

“The authors have concluded that some authorities feel there might, upon further study, be a role for this procedure in carefully controlled settings under the guidance of those who have developed an expertise in its use.” That might be okay for a professional journal, but not a book written for the popular press.

Your article or book is supposed to persuade readers, not puzzle them

So say what you want to say; don’t bury your message under a pile of “ifs” and “maybes” and “perhapses” and “occasionallys” and “some-have-reporteds.”

Stick your neck out!

Decide what you what the world to know, then write about it in specific, concrete, positive words and phrases. Use qualifiers when necessary, but not as a habit, and not as a way of covering your rear. If you want to say something, say it with confidence. If you’re not sure about something, don’t say it.

Writing, “The Smith Diet has had positive effects in some patients,” won’t inspire a lot of people to jump on your bandwagon. Instead, try, “Thirty-percent of the dieters lost ten pounds in two weeks,” if that is indeed the truth.

Instead of writing…

“Thus, the studies seem to suggest that it would not be unreasonable to believe that my diet will result in a weight loss of up to two pounds per week,” write, “You can lose up to two pounds per week on my diet.”

Instead of writing…

It might be fair to conclude that pain is a major problem in the United States,” write, “Pain is a major problem in the United States.”

Instead of writing…

“One can see why it has been suggested that such an exercise program could be considered to be beneficial,” write, “The exercise program will be beneficial.”

Don’t be afraid to say what you need to say.

#12: Accentuate the Positive

What tone should you use when writing health, self-help, and similar books for the popular press?

Upbeat and positive. Always.

Readers want to know what works and what they should do

They want to know what you prefer, not what you hate. They want to know what they should do. And they want to know that your idea is going to help them.

That’s why you should emphasize the positive, in word, phrase and general tone.

For example, don’t say, “Every diet that has hit the market since diets were invented is a fraud, except mine.” That’s negative. Put the reader in a positive, more receptive frame of mind by saying: “My diet is clinically proven to melt the pounds away.”

Don’t waste time telling the reader how rotten, worthless and crooked everyone else is. Tell them how good you are. Say, “My approach gets results by emphasizing the behavioral aspects,” instead of “Everyone else fails because they don’t know what I know about the behavioral aspects.”

Say, “This was the only study approved by peer review,” instead of “Every other researcher faked the results and ought to be thrown in jail.”

Say, “Scientists now agree that meditation is as effective as, and less expensive then, psychiatry,” instead of “Psychiatry is a bunch of bull. It never helped anyone but the greedy doctors who refuse to admit that meditation is better and cheaper.”

Say, “This book goes beyond stress management to…” instead of “This book goes beyond stress management, ‘the very hip buzz phrase’ of the century.”

Readers looking for help don’t want sourpuss writing!

Yes, sometimes you have to point out what’s wrong with the other ideas, programs, diets, etc.

But in general, be positive. Inspire your readers.