It isn’t as difficult to learn a range of writing skills as you might think. We’ve put together a list of steps to help you make dramatic changes to your writing content in the short run.
It takes practice to become a better writer and you are already practicing. No, seriously-you’re writing a lot. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, more often than you know, you put your thoughts into the letter. At the very least, you’re sending emails— a lot of emails— posting on social media, updating your resume and profile on LinkedIn, and texting your mates. They also create things like surveys, presentations, newsletters, if your job requires it. The list is long.
So, you’re already writing. Now, improving your writing skills is just about becoming aware of the things you can do to give your text more structure and make your copy crisp and conversational style readable.
Give Your Writing Structure
When you’re writing in your journal, it’s great to rattle off a stream of consciousness, but if you really want to communicate with others, you’ll need to add some clarity to those rambling thoughts. Here are a few clues.
1. Make sure you’re clear on the concepts you’re writing about.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Before you start writing, take a moment to mentally explain the concept to the six-year-old who lives inside your head. (We all have one, don’t we?) If your writing goal is to achieve a specific result, ask yourself what that result should be. Before you dive into writing, have a clear purpose. Then stick to it.
2. If the message is complex, outline it.
It doesn’t take much thought-organizing to compose the average text message, but if you’re writing something more complex, with multiple angles, questions, or requests, get all that stuff sorted before you sit down to write. Making an outline, or even just some quick notes about the topics you want to cover can save you time answering clarifying questions later. And speaking of questions . . .
3. Anticipate your readers’ questions.
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Do they have enough context to understand what you’ve written for them? If not, fill in the blanks. But . . .
4. Don’t over-explain everything.
If you’ve taken the time to organize your thoughts in advance, you should be able to keep things simple. The idea is to give readers just enough to understand what you’re communicating without overwhelming them with trivial details. If you find yourself getting in the weeds with more details than you need, look at each piece of information and ask whether it’s essential to help your reader understand your message. If not, get rid of it.
Tighten Your Writing
We sometimes write as we talk, and that can be a good thing. It keeps our writing conversational (more on that in a moment.) But rambling, wordy writing makes your text hard to read, and it can make you sound as though you lack conviction. Start practicing these skills to streamline your writing.
5. Go easy on the prepositional phrases
When I was a neophyte writer, someone showed me how prepositional phrases made my writing unnecessarily wordy and complex. It was an epiphany!
Prepositions aren’t difficult to understand, but the concept does require some explanation. Get smart about prepositions here, and then try to simplify them whenever it makes sense. Your writing will get a much-needed clarity boost.
6. Eliminate the filler words and phrases
Some words show up in our writing all the time, and yet they don’t contribute much of anything. Although these filler words and phrases sometimes add color or even meaning, most of the time they contribute nothing but clutter. Here are thirty-one of them you can eliminate right now.
Don’t pad weak words with adverbs.
Adverbs— words that often end in-ly— modify verbs and adjectives at times. They’re all right every now and then, but when you find yourself using them all the time, you’re probably making bad choices about words. Instead of “ran really fast” write “sprinted.” Was something “extremely funny”? Nah, it was “hilarious.” The scenery may have been “very beautiful,” but your writing’s going to shine if you refer to it as “gorgeous,” “lush,” “verdant,” or “bucolic.”
Make Your Writing More Conversational
8. Stick with simple words.
Bestselling author John Grisham said, “There are three types of words:
- words we know;
- words we should know;
- words nobody knows.
Forget those in the third category, and use caution with those in the second. “There’s a difference between having a rich vocabulary and throwing words worth a million dollars into your writing just for showing off. Keep your language plain and straightforward unless it’s your intent to be romantic.
I am sure you will provide the quality of the work that we are looking for. Let’s address that in next week’s meeting.
9. Use contractions.
English speaking people use contractions— you’re, I’m, we’re, they’re, they can’t, they’re not. Without them the writing would sound rigid and formal. For instance: I am sure you will deliver the quality of the work we are looking for. Let’s discuss it in next week’s conference.
Let’s just add a few contractions now. Isn’t that feeling less stuffy?
I am sure you will be able to deliver the quality of the work we’re looking for. Let’s think about this at next week’s conference.
10. Try transcribing yourself.
Register to speak for yourself. Use this one weird trick to learn a lot about conversational writing!
Attempt to transcribe a conversation you’ve captured (with permission of course from the other person). Transcribe a few minutes of Word-for-Word dialog. Then correct or delete any false beginnings and remove filler (um, yeah, like, you know)—and voila!—You have some conversational writing to yourself. The recording and editing process will help you learn what to do, and what not to do.
11. Throw away the grammar rule book . . . within reason.
We, the Enter To Study team, give you permission to start sentences with conjunctions. And (see what we did there?) when you write anything formal, we’re perfectly fine with you finishing those pre-positioned sentences. Write to men, obviously! Everything is fine.
12. Keep your sentences simple.
Literary greats with flair can write long, complex sentences. Why you didn’t? Okay, you certainly aren’t trying to write like Tolstoy, Nabokov or Faulkner for example. Smaller, less complex sentences are easier to read. Keep that easy, stupid! Yet change the duration of your sentence so it has a nice flow in your prose.
13. Read it out loud.
Reading your writing aloud will help you determine if it runs smoothly when thinking about flow. If it sounds choppy and clipped, add a few more phrases to interrupt this slow, monotonous rhythm. If you find yourself stumbling over bits, you have probably found an unnecessarily complicated term that needs to be rewritten. I also recommend a loud reading of your work. It works because it works!
14. Infuse your personality into your writing
The best way of creating a writing style is to let your personality shine through. Use the words and slang you would usually using (within reason). Throw in a relevant personal story, when needed. Be yourself while writing, in all but the most formal or professional writing environments.
15. Practice, practice, practice!
The best way to make your writing stronger is by first understanding what weakens it, and then set your mind to repair (and ultimately prevent) the mistakes. The more that you write, edit, and proofread, the better that you get.