Everyone writes—not everyone writes well. Better writing will improve your chances for success in many areas of life. Perhaps you will never pen a novel, essay or short story, but you may create a letter, a blog post, a memo, a lesson plan, an email or a work-related report. I’m betting you want to persuade others with your words and project a professional image. Improving your writing skills takes time, but you’ll make huge strides by following the tips below. By the way, these writing tips are not original to me. I had to learn them the hard way through studying, practicing and receiving insightful critiques on my work.
Tips for Better Writing
- Write in the active voice. Simply stated, this means the subject–person or thing–is performing the action. The active voice helps your sentences flow better. Instead of saying, “The ball was kicked by John,” say, “John kicked the ball.”
- Be concise and accurate. Use simple and effective words. Avoid trying to impress readers with long, flowery words. Vary your sentence length. Use prepositional phrases sparingly. Next time you write a memo or letter try this exercise: use only one-syllable words. Not an easy task.
- Use vivid verbs. Hard-working verbs will spice up your writing, making it more interesting and precise. What do I mean by that? It’s tempting to use non-specific verbs that may not accurately describe your subject’s action or character. I could say, “Jim walked across the room.” But it’s a lot more intereseting to say, “Jim swaggered across the dance floor.”
- Trim down nominalizations. A nominalization is a verb form which has been converted to a noun. They’re easy to spot, usually ending with these suffixes: -ent, -ence, -ant, -ency, -ancy, -ment, -tion, and -sion. Overuse of these verb-based words can make your writing boring. So instead of me saying, “You can make application of these tips to your writing,” I could say, “You can apply these tips to your writing.” See the difference?
- Watch out for commonly misused words. Examples include problem words like “principle / principal,” “advice / advise,” and “effect / affect.” When confused, go back to your grammar books or plug the word into Google. A good grammar book will usually have a listing of these commonly misused words.
- Cut the fluff. Eliminate unnecessary words or phrases. Avoid clichés. A few words can convey tons of meaning. Look at your sentence and begin targeting things that can be eliminated. As you do, ask yourself: have I retained the essential meaning I wanted to convey?
- Eliminate jargon. Write with your audience in mind. Express things in a way your audience will easily understand. Realize that your audience may not be as familiar with the subject matter as you are, and you may need to explain things in laymen’s terms.
- Use white space, bolding and underlining. Readers like white space. You can see I’ve broken this article up and created more white space by using bullets. I’m also bolding the first sentence after each bullet. Note the header.
- Improve your grammar. Find a good grammar book or online course. Go back and review the basics of subject-verb agreement, the use of proper tense and good punctuation. Keeping your writing concise facilitates effective grammar. Learning the rules takes time, so don’t beat yourself up. I doubt that John Grisham remembers them all either.
- Check your spelling. I use spell check every time I right, but you can see it missed one important word within this sentence. Go the extra mile, and proofread your work.
- Sound positive, and express confidence. Next time you’re tempted to say something in a negative way, rewrite it to sound positive. Also, cut out tentative phrases like “I think,” “sort of,” or “try to.”
- Adjust your writing style for different genres. Learn the different styles and practices for writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. Obviously, writing for the work environment will be different from writing a short story. But still, some principles continue to apply across the different genres.
- Read your work out loud. As you read your writing aloud, look for places you may stumble. If you stumble, there’s a good chance the reader will find something that sounds awkward too.
- Practice, practice, practice. Use every opportunity to improve your writing. Find some experts who will honestly critique your articles or manuscripts. Listen and follow their advise. Sorry, I meant—advice.
I suggest you find a good writing group or mentor. Do you know an experienced writer or perhaps an English teacher? Feed them samples of your writing, and learn from their suggestions. I hope these tips have helped, and I know for some I’m preaching to the choir. If you have some writing tips you’d like to share, please leave a comment.