What is effective writing?

Effective writing is hard to define. It can be viewed as a long list of DOs and DON’Ts, or various practices to inhabit or inhibit. Even the most rudimentary definitions vary from clarity and brevity to simply having a beginning, middle, and end.

In my quest to identify the true essence of effective writing, I looked to history – the 4th century BC to be exact – when Aristotle wrote his Treatise on Rhetoric, which presented the ideas of ethos, pathos, and logos. With a little help from John D. Ramage and John C. Bean, authors of Writing Arguments 4th Edition, I am reminded of these three basic building blocks of effective writing. Ethos (credibility) is convincing the reader that you are worth listening to, Pathos (emotion) refers to the art of persuasion by appealing to the reader’s emotions, and Logos (logic) is using reason to persuade.

Whether you choose to “never use a long word where a short one will do”, “tap into the power of metaphor”, “write in short bursts”, or write like mad for hours on end, don’t overlook these three fundamental ingredients that are not just pillars of effective writing, but of all styles of communication.

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