The key to better writing – whether it’s a school essay, business proposal, book manuscript, feature article, or blog post (phew!) – is using clear and effective words and sentences.
“There are no dull subjects,” said H.L. Mencken. “There are only dull writers.”
Yikes, that’s a lot of pressure for writers! We can’t blame the topic…we can only blame our writing. If you’re not telling stories in your essays, sharing interesting tidbits in your business proposals, creating suspense in your book manuscripts, sharing telling details in your feature articles, or telling readers what’s in it for them in your blog posts…then you need to learn how to write better.
Here are several quick tips for better writing, which will make even the dullest subjects more interesting for readers (and writers).
1. Ka – Pow ! Write with impact
“Readers often use the same images to describe a document that has no impact,” writes Colter in Writing to Go. “‘It’s flat.’; ‘There’s no life in it’; ‘It just lies on the page.’”
To make your writing more effective, add a little ooomph to your words and sentences. How? Learn what edgy and quirky writing is, and experiment with different, active, and precise verbs and nouns.
2. Use words and phrases you understand
Take this sentence: “The scansion of your writing reveals that you can learn to write better.” Ummmm…huh?….I looked up “scansion” before and after writing this sentence, and I still don’t know what it means. I’m sure I’m not using the word correctly, and I’m equally sure that even readers who know what it means won’t understand the sentence.
To write clearly and effectively, leave out the “razzle dazzle” words (even if you know what they mean).
3. Connect the dots in your writing
Do your sentences and paragraphs have clear transitions from one thought to another?
For instance, I often struggle with the opening paragraphs of my “Quips and Tips” articles, which contain four main elements. I want to introduce the idea (and hook readers!), include a writing quip, feature a book about writing, and then flow into the main article. These four elements need to be connected with logical thoughts and words.
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When your writing is clear, it won’t feel choppy or disjointed. Effective writing flows.
4. Take out the trash – even if you’re earning a dollar a word
Established freelance writers may get paid a dollar or two per word, but they strip every unnecessary syllable from their sentences if they want to keep earning a living as a writer. Students writing 1,000 word essays may want to stuff in extra words to complete the assignment, but what they gain in time they’ll lose in grades.
Clear, effective writing is about using short words like “truthfully” instead of long phrases like “as a matter of fact” (or not eliminating the words altogether, if it’s not necessary). If you want to write better, fellow scribes, you need to take out the trash.
5. Use a fine-toothed comb on your article, essay, or business proposal
Even the most successful writers cannot apply every tip for better writing in their first, second, or third drafts. To write better – and keep your readers hooked – you need to edit and revise your work several times. This means starting writing your essay or article long before it’s due…and combing out all the tangles.
How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark is what I’m currently reading. He covers how to write effective and powerful titles, headlines, essays, sales pitches, Tweets, letters, and even self-descriptions for online dating services.
For more tips for successful writers, read 6 Ways to Make Your Writing Better.
Help me! I know there are dozens of tips for clear, effective writing – but what are they? I welcome your thoughts below. Even better: can you can pinpoint where I haven’t been clear or effective in my writing above? I’d love to improve my writing skills. 🙂