Learning a variety of writing skills isn’t as difficult as you may think. We’ve put together a list of steps to help you make dramatic improvements to the quality of your writing in short order.
Becoming a better writer takes practice, and you’re already practicing. No, seriously—you write a lot. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you put thoughts into text more often than you realize. At the very least, you write emails—a lot of emails—post on social media, make updates to your résumé and LinkedIn profile, and message your friends. If your job requires it, you also create things like reports, presentations, newsletters . . . it’s a long list.
So, you’re already writing. Now, improving your writing skills is just a matter of becoming conscious of the things you can do to give your text more structure and make your copy crisp and readable with a conversational style.
Give Your Writing Structure
It’s fine to rattle off a stream of consciousness when you’re writing in your journal, but if you actually want to communicate with others you’ll need to bring some order to those rambling thoughts. Here are some tips.
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 like 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.
Here’s even more help.
7 Don’t pad weak words with adverbs.
Adverbs—those words that often end in -ly—modify verbs and sometimes adjectives. They’re okay once in a while, but when you find yourself using them all the time, you’re probably making weak word choices. 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: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category and use restraint with those in the second.” There’s a difference between having a rich vocabulary and dropping million-dollar words into your writing just to show off. Unless it’s your intent to be poetic, keep your language simple and direct.
9 Use contractions.
English speakers use contractions—you’re, I’m, we’re, they’re, can’t, didn’t. Your writing will sound stiff and formal without them. For example:
Now, let’s add some contractions. Doesn’t this sound less stuffy?
10 Try transcribing yourself.
Record yourself talking. You can learn a lot about conversational writing using this one weird trick! (Sorry, Buzzfeed, we tease because we care.)
Try transcribing a conversation you’ve recorded (with the other person’s permission, of course). Transcribe a couple of minutes of the conversation word-for-word. Then, fix or remove any false starts and remove filler (um, uh, like, you know)—et voila!—you’ve got yourself some conversational writing. The process of transcribing and editing will help you learn what to do and what not to.
11 Throw away the grammar rule book . . . within reason.
We, the Grammarly team, give you permission to start sentences with conjunctions. And (see what we did there?) unless you’re writing something formal, we’re perfectly okay with you ending some sentences with prepositions. Write naturally, human! It’s all good.
12 Keep your sentences simple.
Literary greats can write long, complex sentences with flair. Why not you? Well, for starters you’re probably not trying to write like Tolstoy, Nabokov, or Faulkner. Short, less complicated sentences are easier to read. Keep it simple, silly! But do vary your sentence length so your writing has a nice flow.
13 Read it out loud.
Speaking of flow, reading your writing aloud can help you determine whether it flows smoothly. If it sounds choppy and clipped, add a few longer sentences to break up that steady, monotonous beat. If you find yourself stumbling over parts, you’ve probably found an overly complex sentence that needs rewriting. I always recommend reading your work out loud . . . because it works!
14 Infuse your personality into your writing
Letting your personality shine through is the best way to develop a writing style. Use the phrases and slang that you would normally use (within reason). When it’s appropriate, throw in a relevant personal anecdote. In all but the most formal or professional writing settings, be yourself when you write.
15 Practice, practice, practice!
The ultimate way to make your writing better is to learn what weakens it in the first place, and then set your mind to fixing (and eventually preventing) the glitches. The more you write, edit, and proofread, the better you get at it.