Does a blank page scare you? It doesn’t matter if it is created by a word processing application, sitting in a typewriter or resting under your pen. Can you fill that void?
Don’t be ashamed if you are nervous. It happens to a lot of people who don’t consider themselves very good writers. The good news is that not a lot of readers are critics. They’re not reading to find fault or grade you on word choice. Unless you are in school.
So let’s work on your writing. The best way to improve it is to write. Just do it. Here are some things to keep in mind that will help:
1. Create an outline
This forces you to think about what you want to write and organize it. You don’t need to put a lot of detail into it. At the least, list your major points. Think about what it would take to fill those short lines in. Revise and/or reorder if need be. When you are done, you have a blueprint that guides you through your writing.
2. Solve a problem
Your readers want to learn how to solve a problem. They want information. The reason you are writing is to fill that need. It’s not about proving how well you can write. Concentrate on what the reader wants to know instead of impressing them. Worry about offering complete information not words.
3. Start in the middle
The beginning or introduction of any piece of writing can be tricky. It is intimidating to come up with the perfect opening. Even trickier is working the transition from introduction to your main points. So cut right to your arguments or information. Concentrate on that and conclude quickly. Then go back and write the introduction that fits into the whole writing.
4. Respect your readers’ vocabulary
This is not about dumbing it down. Use their language. Not only does it keep your words within their world, but it creates a bond between you and reader. They assume you are one of them because you are using words they would use. They will feel more comfortable with you and your words.
Be careful not to break that bond by using jargon. These are the acronyms and terms specific to your field or industry. It’s especially dangerous because jargon may be a natural part of your language. Just about all subcultures use specific words as a shorthand. It makes it more efficient with your group. But it creates barriers between you and people outside your area. If you are explaining something to your readers, the chances are good they’re not going to understand your jargon.
5. Don’t fall in love with your words
This reinforces previous points. Unless you are writing poetry, your readers aren’t looking for lovely language. There will be times that you impress yourself with your wonderful words. But if those words don’t help your readers understand your point, you should edit them out of the piece. Remember, readers want words they know and solutions.
There will be sentences or paragraphs that don’t cut it. They miss the mark and need to be erased. But many writers look for ways to keep the cleverly-crafted passages. You may have invested your heart and soul into those words but they are not necessary. Delete them.
6. Be concise
This is the classic “use one word instead of two” advice. Tight language is easier to read and will move the reader along more quickly.
7. Write it as long as it needs to be
This is NOT an exclusion to the previous rule. The total length of your piece depends on many factors such as how complicated or technical it is. You don’t want to cut it short if you haven’t gotten to your point. Yes, cut out unnecessary words but don’t stop writing necessary ones until you’ve made your points.
8. Respect your readers’ time
This IS an exception to the previous rule. If your readers tend to have little time to dedicate to reading, then you need to fit your work into their schedules.
9. Don’t worry about grammar so much
Unless your audience is made up of high school composition teachers, a lot of the commonly held grammar rules aren’t so important. Start your sentences with “but” and end them with prepositions if need be. Don’t go wild though. Some grammar taboos can allow your writing to flow better. Concentrate on whether your word choice makes it harder to understand your writing or not.
Why you need to do this
Writing is choosing words. It doesn’t matter if you are typing or speaking. You are choosing words. The better you write, the better you will communicate. The Internet gives us more opportunities to communicate in many forms. But at the heart of it all is writing.
Improve your writing and you improve your communication. Then you improve your ability to interact with people and get work done. This could be the most important factor when your bosses are deciding on your promotion.
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