Ten Tips to Improve Your Writing
By Jim Schakenbach
Today it seems like everyone is writing something – emails, blogs, tweets, you name it. Unfortunately, the Internet encourages no thought to go unpublished and so while the amount of content has increased exponentially, the quality of it has not.
a result, our ability to communicate effectively has been dramatically
affected. Never in history has so much been written and so little actually said.
Social media certainly hasn’t helped. Twitter, for example, deliberately
handicaps our ability to communicate well by limiting messages to just 140
characters. Texting is helping create a nation of illiterates who only know how
to “write” in a curious shorthand devoid of vowels.
you write (and these days who doesn’t?), here are ten tips that can immediately
help you improve your writing so you can communicate with clarity, influence
your peers (and hopefully your boss), and reduce your stress when it’s time to
put words on digital paper:
1. Use simple sentences.
Run-on sentences and random thoughts strung together quickly handicap your writing and can create confusion resulting in inaction. Here’s an example of two emails saying the same thing:
“In response to today’s budgetary meeting outlining goals and actionable items relevant to our marketing strategy draft proposal pursuant to management’s strategic business program, please review and assess your department’s 1Q budgetary requirements going forward and provide me with your bottomline request ASAP today, before COBD.”
“I need your first quarter marketing budget by 5pm
Which one of these messages do you think will get a
2. Pay attention to punctuation.
Email and texting have helped foster a general disregard for punctuation these days and as a consequence people use it poorly or not at all, which can cause unintended confusion. Don’t believe me? Here’s the same sentence with two very different meanings:
“My partner arrived dead, last to the meeting.”
arrived dead last to the meeting.”
Punctuation is your friend. Use it well.
3. Use plain language.
in terms of “could my mother understand this?” when you sit down to write
something. This will work wonders on a business plan, a marketing strategy
report, even everyday e-mails. Purge your writing of the trendy and the
corporate and use, as my old journalism professor used to say, a nickel word
instead of a twenty-five-center. Those of you who have been in and around the
corporate world for any length of time know exactly what I am talking about.
Fuzzy, convoluted industry weirdspeak like “authoring solutions-based metrics."
Avoid confusing industry buzzwords whenever possible. If your writing causes
your readers to lunge for a glossary, think hard about a better way to say it.
And if you’ve used words such as “implementation”, “impacting”, and
“facilitate” within the last thirty days I have two words for you: STOP IT.
4. Use an active voice.
This simple tip is a great way to quickly punch up your writing. Instead of using the dreary passive voice, use the livelier active voice. Notice the difference in this example:
The car was
driven by me.
I drove the
5. Tell the whole story.
Everything you write should have a beginning and an
end with everything else following logically between. It sounds simple, but
you’d be amazed at how many people violate this simple rule. We’ve all received
those disjointed emails where it seems as if you’re missing a chunk of the
message, leaving you saying “huh?” Everything you write should be able to stand
alone. Don’t take for granted that the reader knows what you’re talking about.
Start at the beginning and end at the end.
6. Put everything in context.
you’re writing a proposal, a report, a white paper, a piece of sales
literature, or just a simple request for something, put it in context. Show why
it’s important, what it means to the reader, what the result will be. Context
adds value to what you write.
7. Be conversational.
your writing often sound stilted or forced? That’s probably because you’re
trying too hard. Relax. Write the way you speak. That doesn’t mean be sloppy or
slangy, it simply means you should be more concerned with saying it clearly
than saying it “properly.”
8. Write first, edit later.
try to make your writing perfect from the start. If you agonize over every
word, you’ll never finish. You can always go back later and change things. Get
your ideas down first, then go back and edit. You’ll be amazed at how much
quicker and easier that is, once the actual writing is out of the way. And you
may be surprised at how little you change because you weren’t second-guessing
yourself while you were writing.
9. Proofread. Then proofread again.
all make mistakes. But proofreading gives you a chance to fix them before they
see the light of day. Never trust computer spellchecking – it’s amazing how many
weighs their are two spell things.
travel at the speed of light these days. So many people hit “send” without
rereading what they’ve written. Resist the urge. Go get a cup of coffee, then
come back and read what you’ve just written. A breath of fresh air may give you
fresh insight into what you were trying to say. Perhaps the perfect phrase that
was eluding you will pop up. Maybe a better, simpler way to present the idea
will come to you. A tiny bit of procrastination can be a good thing.
So there you have it. Good writing is like golf – many people claim to be good at it, few really are. But if you use these ten simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to clear, concise, and compelling writing.
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