Tips on writing for a general audience:

1.     Translate technical and professional jargon into the sort of clear, concise, and compelling prose an eighth grader can understand:

Before: “Descent was effected from the arboreal habitat by the sciurus carolinensis in order for sustenance to be ingested.”

After: “The squirrel climbed down from the tree to eat.”

        The original sentence appeared in a manuscript for a biology textbook. Developmental editor Autumn Stanley rewrote it to show authors the difference between the academic prose professors use to impress their peers and the more down-to-earth writing that students can understand.

2.     Use anecdotes, examples, and stories to bring your subject to life and make it more memorable for your reader. "Tell me a fact, and I'll learn; tell mea truth, and I'll believeve; but tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever."  

3.     Treat “being” verbs (“is”, for example), as if they express a specific meaning (i.e. a state of being). Lazy speakers and writers overly rely on them. You can quickly strengthen your writing style by using active verbs, which help you “show” rather than “tell” your readers what you want them to see in their mind's eye.

Before: “Jon was fast.”

After:  “Jon ran the 100 yard dash in 30 seconds.”

4.     Avoid passive constructions unless they work best for a particular sentence. Passive sentences paint a less focused picture for the reader.

Before: “The race was run by Jon”

After: “Jon ran the race.”

5.     Replace fifty-dollar words with fifty-cent, common English equivalents that the average reader can comprehend. Readers are not impressed by an expert's use of arcane language and jargon. They just think he's showing off or trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Before: “ Jon often speaks in sesquipedalian anfractuosities.”  

After: “Jon often peppers his speech with long and unnecessarily complicated words and phrases.”

6.     Remember Blaise Pascal's apology for sending a friend a longwinded letter: “I would have made it shorter, if I'd had the time.” A good writer revises, revises, and revises again, pruning unnecessary and redundant verbiage, always following Rules 1-5 above.

     Novelists tell stories. But so do authors of non-fiction books. The best ones use engaging stories to capture their readers' attention and help them remember important infomation. This little tutorial practices what we preach:

Tell Me a Story

     The Nobel Prize winning physicist Martin Perl was taking a seventh-grade class on a tour of the Stanford Accelerator, when a student asked, “What do you do here, Dr. Perl?” Martin laughed. “Well, imagine a snowball. We use this big gun to shoot it at a wall, smashing it into pieces. Then we shoot the pieces again and again and again, until we smash them into the tiniest invisible pieces in the universe.” The kids got it. Recalling this story, Martin said, “If a scientist cannot explain to an eleven-year-old child what he is doing in his lab, he doesn't know what he's doing in his lab.”

     Anecdotes, examples, and stories bring a subject to life and make it memorable. Ed Sabol, producer of NFL Films, often paraphrased a Native American proverb: "Tell me a fact, and I'll learn; tell me a truth, and I'll believe; but tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever."

     According to the psychologist Jean Piaget, people (readers) do not think in abstract terms but in concrete images. Great teachers know this. They do not stand before the class and recite the principles of psychology, they engage the audience's attention with a compelling story they will remember long after their listeners leave the room.  Great writers do the same.