How To Write With Flair

Five Ways to Write with Flair

By Heather Holleman, Ph.D.

Most of us will have thousands of occasions for writing in the next year: emails, text messages, resumes, blog entries, cover letters, articles, love letters, essays, reports, memos, or our next big novel. How do we make our writing interesting to our audience? With flair!
It’s easy. I know 5 methods. Ready?

1. Choose a verb with flair.

Eliminate feeble verbs (am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, seems, appear, exists). These verbs don’t show anything happening. Use exciting verbs. I love verbs like grapple and fritter. Grapple with strong verbs to fritter away the feeble ones.

2. Toggle between the Big 5 punctuation marks. 

When you want to create complexity and voice in your writing, try using the Big 5: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, and comma.

Here’s how:

To highlight a part of your sentence–like this one–use dashes. Dashes shout. On the other hand, if you want to whisper and share a secret with an audience (like this one), use parentheses. Parentheses whisper. Semicolons confuse most; they unite full sentences that belong together because the second sentence explains or amplifies the first. Commas help the reader along by following introductory clauses, or they combine two sentences when you want to use a conjunction like and, but, for, or, nor, so (commas can be really hard unless you had grammar instruction as a kid). Finally, the colon designates that a list or definition will follow.

So the Big 5 include: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma.

3. Vary the length of your sentences and change the way they start to create rhythm.

See sample paragraph above.

4. Garnish your paragraph with some clever wordplay if you can.

Common cleverness in writing includes: puns, repeated first words, self-answering questions, understatement, just being funny, just being YOU. However, avoid overused expressions and clichés.

5. Engage your audience.

Establish rapport by talking to them. Are you wondering how this works? Just notice them in your writing (like I just did). Make it obvious that you are talking to people.

Try these simple things to create some flair in your writing today. Enjoy some written flair.

Dr. Heather Holleman


Dr. Heather Holleman is a successful author, inspirational speaker and Penn State writing instructor.  Her book Writing With Flair was published in 2011.


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6 thoughts on “How To Write With Flair

  1. Dr. Holleman offers an interesting take on writing. She explicates, through varies examples, how important being able to write is; whether it be in a group chat with friends, email to a boss, or even in a journal. Writing is equally as important as speaking, with respect to communicative skills.

    This alternate take on rhetoric applies to the most fundamental ways in which we can add some swagger – or “flair” as Dr. Holleman likes to call it – to better tend to the reader. I never pondered the effects that may come verb choice, moreover, I only cared about the complexity of the verb.

    Dr. Holleman’s fourth point intrigued me the most. More specifically the writer accentuating how important it is to “just be you.” Often times, I get too carried away with worrying about what the audience want to hear as opposed to the message that I’m trying to convey. In turn this frequently takes away from my originality and creativity. Both originality and creativity are what makes someone a distinct and stylistic writer.

    Lastly, engaging one’s audience is what was most understandable to me. Although I like to carried away with speaking to the audience, Dr. Holleman discusses a different approach where one reflects on the elements in a respective piece of writing. Such as “she’ll really think it’s funny if I add a pun” or “my boss would really consider my proposal if I use staccato sentence structure.” There’s so much to consider when writing, but summarizing what matters into five points makes it seem a whole lot easier.

  2. The article by Heather Holleman was very useful particularly because we will have to write a lot in the future. For example, we have to write before our job application and even after we get a job. This simply indicates that following Heather’s tips would bring benefit to us in professional career. In order to differentiate our writing, we have to eliminate the common verbs and replace them with other rich verbs. For that, we have to read and enrich our vocabulary. Her emphasis on the “big five” helps us to understand that those signs (comma etc) have strong meanings. Heather also suggested that being more interactive is actually being more effective. For example, we can ask a question to the reader. This would make the reader feel that the writer is talking to him/her and more interaction would possibly grab more attention. Overall, by following these tips, we would significantly increase the chance of our reader to enjoy our writing.

  3. I found this article by Dr. Holleman very interesting as it addressed problems that I typically face in writing. Holleman cleverly used her 5 tips throughout her writing, drawing attention to their usefulness and exhibiting how to use them.

    I related this article to the discussion in class about business communication, and how the tone should be positive and professional. The 5 tips: verb flair, punctuation marks, sentence length, world play, and audience engagement can be used to deliver messages effectively while maintaining a positive tone.

    I think this blog addressed multiple subjects we have addressed in class in conjunction with the tools discussed by Dr. Holleman. In order to communicate effectively you must know your audience, medium, message, and effective tone. This all established using the tips given by Dr. Holleman.

  4. This article by Dr. Heather Holleman covers a majority of the challenges people have with writing. I believe we all struggle with writing to a computer screen and not a human reading our work. Her point “Engage your audience”, is something I don’t think about and definitely don’t use often. Engaging the audience by acknowledging them connects you to the reader and you appear more genuine and authentic. This relates to what we talked about in class, too, when we discussed if you wouldn’t say it aloud, you shouldn’t write it. When I first heard this, I reflected on my writing style and how I try to sound more formal than how I would be speaking. The article linked below offers writing tips from 11 different experts. One in particular “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” shows that writing should be like a conversation between the writer and reader. Now after reading Dr. Holleman’s article, class discussion, and the linked article, I realize the importance of keeping the conversational and engaging tone.

  5. “Five Ways to Write with Flair” is an educational and extremely clever article. Dr. Holleman manages to give useful writing tips while simultaneously giving examples. I’ve never thought of punctuation as anything more than a way to end a sentence. Now I see how punctuation is a tool that can be used to spice up and vary one’s writing. I loved how Dr. Holleman gave examples of how to utilize “the big five”, as well as different sentence styles and lengths. The article is also fun and easy to read, unlike some dry writing articles I’ve read in the past. I found another article on making writing more interesting that focuses mostly on word choice.

  6. The post from professor Holleman is very interesting since I have never though of English language from this perspective. Until this moment I never realized that I was only translating what I meant to say in Spanish to English, while each language has its own flair and I completely forgot it and mixed them up.

    That’s why when I read my texts in English I understand them without any problem but many people who have English as their first language can not. Reason is because while I read my brain translates really fast and its like reading in Spanish.

    This explains why for a long time I started to feel that my English was not improving anymore and actually was gradually worsening. In this publication I found the answer to my problem in the very title “How to write with flair”.

    About point 4 when the professor said “be funny, just be you” I find this challenging because for example: I am very funny in Spanish and always the people around me is laughing, but when I came to Penn State I noticed that my jokes in English were not working. This echoes to what I said before; I was mixing both languages and it took me to Junior year to notice this.

    From now on I ‘m going to start using the five tips the teacher indicates in its publication, as I think they are a good way to start improving my English again since language is one of the most important tools of a businessman and I don’t want to miss that.

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