I am wary of how to be a better writer guides, but the Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See by Holt Uncensored is excellent. The sections covered are: repeats (crutch words), flat writing, empty adverds (avoid fat writing), phony dialog, no-good suffixes, the ‘to be’ words, lists (uh, well, ignore this one), show don’t tell, awkward phrasing, and commas.
I have five crutch words I am trying to break myself of. They are: actually, ultimately, that, however, and fuckthepresident.
However, in regards to the essay’s section on comma use, my problem with commas is that I tend to use too many rather than not enough. One of my favorite college computer teachers, who happened to have a PhD in English, used to tell me he wanted me to write comfortably without worry about punctuation, and then go through the work when I was finished and delete half the commas — adjusting the text accordingly. I still try to follow this today, but am not always successful.
As for flat writing, that’s the bane of technical writers. It’s very difficult to write actively when you’re talking about code. Something about code flattens written language. Still (is still a crutch word? Hmmm), flat, or passive writing, is a very effective tool to use when you’re involved in a sensitive written debate, such as in comments. The flat writings nollifies the bite of the words, making it less, uhm, flammable.
If you want your writing to be perceived more passively, write more passively.
All in all, an excellent essay.