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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Thanks for the post Carl. I tend to catch myself writing a lot more than I need to. I’ll keep these pointers in mind. Cheers!
Great list. I often take #6 a little too seriously though – how do you expand your writing when you’ve been too concise?
Awesome article. I usually get scared at the thought of writing, which is usually my blog, and this post helps me gain the confidence.
The best thing I have found to improve writing is, write then write some more.
Great hints. It really encouraged me to write. Thanks.
I think the quality of this article is rare. No fluff. Well written. And advice that isn’t so obvious but is very helpful.
Awesome stuff. Inspiring.
Thank you for great tips. My native language is Japanese, but I’m studying English writing now. The tips you mentioned must be useful for any language because writing is communication!! 🙂
It takes me longer to read a poorly constructed sentence compared to one with no grammatical errors. Why? Because my brain isn’t trying to correct the author’s poor writing.
I understand the difference between conversational writing and formal writing, but to discard our beautiful language is not only a shame, it’s inefficient.
Not sure I can completely ignore grammar…especially when I am dealing with so many resumes. True, article writing is a little more relaxed than resume writing, but still grammar, syntax and typographical errors can be downright distracting…and sometimes detracts from the value of what they are reading (unless you want to be known as the writur who cant rite to have hiz hide).
Overall I enjoyed your article…a well-presented piece that deserves praise. 🙂
Karen, The Resume Chick (you can Google that)
I agree with Jeff, the biggest tip left off of your list is actually writing as often as you can.
These tips are great and they’ll help you become a better writer, but unless you take the time to write and make mistakes, all the tips in the world won’t make a difference.
I also like; that you said, not to Worry, ab out Grammar!
All bad jokes aside, grammar and spelling are two of the biggest things that scare people about writing; Once you realize that most people won’t critique every comma you type, you’re free to become a better writer.
Perhaps I was a bit too concise when writing about grammar. There’s a line somewhere you don’t want to cross. But there are people like Wolf who stop at each instance of incorrect usage.
Did any of you object to that last sentence? And did you understand what I meant to say?
There is no perfect way to write. If your audience expects beautiful language, then you need to make sure they get perfect grammar. Some audiences are very forgiving (or don’t notice) when you end a sentence with a preposition.
And I do agree that you need to write as often as possible. Make it a habit and you make it less of a chore. Sorry I left it off the list.
After I hit the submit button I hear this NPR piece on proper elocution (http://n.pr/d0ZYp1). It mirrors the debate here in these comments. It makes points about pronunciation and grammar.
I wanted to write a column that encouraged people to write by taking some of the scariness out of it. Maybe I need to follow up with one with some rules.
First of all, thanks or this great article. This will be helpful to many beginner writers.
But I think there’s another really-important advice: reading other people’s articles on the subject that you want to write about. That really works for me that even I can see that my writing is gettin better and better. By reading, you see their mistakes and missing points of the article; then you won’t do these mistakes.
For Grammar I have good link to follow by BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/words/grammar/
I found a great “free” grammar coach. I turned on almost all of MS Words grammar checker function and then circle back to address things like passive voice and split infinitives. No only is it this method free, it also free of the condescending attitude that so many people with “perfect” grammar seem to have to us lower lifeforms, who are trying to create, as imperfect as we are.