Writing well comes easier to some people than to others. But even for the best writers, getting good results is largely a matter of putting in the effort.
In this post, I’ll list a few tips that anyone can use to improve their writing.
Start with an outline
Before you even start writing, think carefully about the overall structure of your work. What’s a good starting point? How should it flow? What examples should you give? How should it end?
If you plan this in advance, the actual writing will be much more easier… and the finished product will hold up better.
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite
Don’t think of your first draft as a finished work. Rather, think of it as an advanced outline: a roughly-shaped work that still needs final shaping. And the only way to do that final shaping is to rewrite repeatedly. Actively search for and repair:
- Sentences that are too long and complicated. Break them down into shorter, simpler sentences.
- Cliches, buzzwords and jargon.
- Unnecessary repetition (of both words and concepts).
- Weak verbs and passive voice. Activate your prose.
If possible, have someone else review your work. Not to rewrite it, but to spot embarrassing errors, patches of awkwardness, questionable logic, etc.
Proofread like a Pro
Spell checkers and grammar checkers have their use. They’ll spot obvious typos, duplicated words, etc. But never rely on them entirely.
Here are some proofreading tips:
Let it rest
When we’re too close to our work, it’s hard to spot errors. So it’s important to remove yourself from it for a while. The longer the better.
Of course, deadlines usually dictate that we can’t “put it away” for weeks or months. But at least wait overnight before final proofreading.
Print your document
It’s hard to see your work in a fresh light on-screen. We’re just too used to seeing it there. For final proofreading, it’s much better to review a printed document.
To maximize readability, print it in a large font size. And to maximize “freshness”, print it in a different (but highly legible) typeface.
Read it out loud
It’s much easier to identify clumsy passages when you actually hear them. So if circumstances permit, read your document out loud. Better yet, have someone else read it to you.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Well-written articles are so clear and convincing that they look simple… and therefore obvious and “easy”. But writing well — reaching the simplicity that appears so easy — takes a dedicated effort.