Start an Infowriter’s Toolkit

Roy Peter Clark celebrated his 25th year at The Poynter Institute by building a roomy Writer’s Toolbox and stocking it with 50 tools for crafting words into … well, pick your masterpiece.

Clark turned the complete toolbox into a book — Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Given their number and variety, not every tool fits neatly into an infowriter’s hand. But Clark’s first ten tools (he calls them Nuts and Bolts) are great as a starter set and the basis for assembling a specialized Infowriter’s Toolkit.

Here’s the Nuts and Bolts collection from Clark’s Quick List (with several infowriting-specific modifications by Judy).

  1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
    Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.
  2. Order words for emphasis.
    Place strong words at the beginning and at the end.
  3. Activate your verbs.
    Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players. Tools 1, 2, and 3 help infowriters make their writing clear.
  4. Be passive-aggressive.
    Use passive verbs to showcase the “victim” of action. This tool is of limited use to an infowriter. Use it sparingly, and only when Tools 1, 2, and 3 don’t really get the job done.
  5. Watch those adverbs.
    Use them to change the meaning of the verb. This is a tricky tool to use, especially in infowriting. Resist the temptation to use it indiscriminately.
  6. Take it easy on the -ings.
    Prefer the simple present or past.
  7. Fear not the long sentence.
    Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning. This tool works better for an infowriters crafting “literature” on a busman’s holiday. Don’t use it in writing that aims to get work done.
  8. Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
    Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain. Cutting across the grain weakens the wood; be careful with this tool.
  9. Let punctuation control pace and space.
    Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.
  10. Cut big, then small.
    Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves.

What are your favorite tools for crafting words? What do you use to create infowriting masterpieces that get work done? Hmm?