9 Simple Steps to Improve Your Writing
9 Simple Steps to Better Writing
The Art of Improving Your Writing
Good writers are always seeking to improve their writing. Good writing is more than just good grammar and proper spelling. It's an art. Luckily, it's an art that can be learned with practice
Applying the following concepts to your writing will improve your writing drastically:
- Use an appropriate road map
- Vary sentence length
- Use active verbs
- Choose clear vocabulary
- Edit, let it sit, and edit again; repeat as necessary
- Cater to your audience
- Read it out-loud
- Get honest feedback from a friend or peer
Your Road Map
Solidify your road map. Make sure the structure of your work guides the reader through your peace gracefully. You want your reader to be able to enjoy what they are reading and focus on what you are saying instead of focusing on trying to understand what you are saying.
Begin with a strong introduction. Your introduction should tell the reader what they are going to be reading about and why that topic is important. It should also provide context for your piece. Humans learn by making connections. By giving your reader context, he or she will know where to store the new information in the database of their current knowledge.
Each subsequent paragraph should have a topic sentence that relates to what you discussed in your introduction. If it doesn't relate to your introduction, the paragraph is probably better suited for another piece or needs to be edited until it does support your introduction. The remainder of that paragraph should support, discuss, or explain the topic sentence of that paragraph.
Make sure the order of your paragraphs make sense. Find a scheme with which to organize your paper and stick to it. Use sequential phrases where appropriate and be sure your paragraphs flow from one into the next. Repeating one or two key words in the last sentence of the first paragraph and the first sentence of the second paragraph goes a long way in increasing flow between paragraphs.
Finish with a strong conclusion. Everyone will remember the first and the last thing they read best. Use your conclusion to summarize what you said and remind the reader why what you wrote is important.
Avoid Sentence Suicide
Sentences are the smallest grammatical units that contain complete ideas. Be sure each of your sentences contains a complete idea. Every sentence needs a subject and a verb. Once you're sure every sentence has a verb, replace as many passive verbs as you can with active verbs. Passive verbs put distance between the reader, the author, and the subject material. Use as many active verbs as you can to engage your reader.
Once you have double checked each of your sentences to make sure they are stellar, complete thoughts with active verbs, make sure the order of your sentences makes sense. Does every sentence support the topic sentence of that paragraph? Does the reader have enough information to understand each new sentence and idea? Does your flow from one sentence into another make sense? If you answered no to any of those questions you need to either delete a sentence, rearrange sentences or add explanatory sentences.
Check each paragraph and make sure you have a good variety of sentence lengths in every section. Longer sentences are harder to read and can make the piece feel unnecessarily long, especially if you're writing for the web. However, too many short sentences makes writing feel choppy. Use a good mix of short and long and simple and complex sentences to find the right balance between being choppy and being hard to read.
Passive Verses Active
The picture was painted by Maria.
Maria painted the picture.
He was running.
It was a hot and sunny day.
The warm sun shone down on us.
Good Writing Is Built Upon Good Word Choice
Consider your word choice. Look for the words you use most frequently and try to find synonyms you could use instead. Replace tired words with more exciting, specific and unique (to that paragraph, not to your vocabulary) words. Don't be afraid to use a thesaurus, but be sure your final piece isn't awkward or hard to understand because you used too many large, unnatural or uncommon words in your piece.
Replace generic words with more specific words where you can and eliminate filler. Don't go to the opposite extreme and eliminate words that help your paper flow from one point to the next, but try to say what you want to say in as few words as possible. You should follow the mini-skirt rule. Your writing needs to be long enough to follow the topic, but short enough to keep it interesting.
Try to use words that will invite the reader to experience the piece with as many of their senses as possible. Smells and tastes are more memorable than sights and sounds. Using words that will help your reader associate your piece with these senses or any combination of senses increases the likelihood that your reader will remember what you wrote.
Take a Time-Out
Our brains are amazing machines. Your brain knows what you meant to type and won't always register missing words or typos if you edit a piece right after you write it. This is especially true if you have been working on the piece for a considerable length of time. Give it a rest. Let it sit for a few hours and go work on something else. Preferably not more writing, but if it has to be writing, be sure it's a completely different piece and topic. You'll be much more likely to catch mistakes after you've taken a timeout and let your work sit for a little bit.
Get to know your Audience
Imagine your reader. What are their needs? Why are they reading your piece? What do they want to see in your piece? What are they not interested in? How long do they expect your post to be? Can they understand your piece with relative ease? Or will they spend a considerable amount of effort trying to understand your work instead of enjoying it and focusing on the content of the piece? Once you've answered these questions, go back through your piece and be sure you have answered all their questions and met their needs in your piece. Make any changes you need to make so your work fulfills their expectations.
Read it Outloud
You may have been writing for a long time. However, you've probably been listening for an even longer time. After you've finished the piece, read through it, and given it a time out, read it out-loud. Take note of anything that causes you to cringe and find more naturally ways to say it, break those chunks into smaller pieces, or clarify pronouns as necessary. Your eyes will catch many of your mistakes, but your ears will catch even more.
Double check your tone. Is it sufficiently formal for your audience? Is it too cold or distant? Is it appropriately professional? Read your piece out loud again and listen for any issues in your tone that may undermine your message. Eliminate them as necessary.
Improving Your Writing Shouldn't Be a Lonely Effort
Get Honest Feedback from a Friend
Books are edited by more than one person. Having a friend edit your work isn't a sign of weakness or lack of confidence, it's smart! If you plan to do a lot of writing, find several good writers/editors and exchange work with them. Ask them to give you comments on grammar, flow, content, and organization and do the same for them in return.
Carefully consider all feedback you receive. Remember, every writer has things he or she could improve on, but on the flipside, not all feedback is useful feedback. Ask your friend for any clarification you need on his edits and make the necessary changes. Directly asking about your flow and organization and the overall nature of the piece may spur additional valuable comments.
After you have implemented the advice you thought would improve the quality of your work, consider asking another person or two to read through your piece. Try to pick someone in a different demographic than your first reader if you wrote for a wider audience. If your piece is for a more specific audience, try to find members of that audience to proofread it and edit it. Be sure to ask if there is anything that should be clarified so your general audience will understand your piece without too much mental exertion.