Whether or not you like it, writing is a major part of most jobs these days. And while some of us opt to spend a solid third of our lives going to graduate school to learn how to become better writers by pursuing a Ph.D. in English, most people have different, more practical career ambitions and spend their time doing other things and letting their writing skills fall by the wayside.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have a graduate degree in writing to write clear, concise, thoughtful, and comprehensive blog posts, emails, presentations, e-books, or reports. All you need is some time and some determination. Our writing tips are fairly straightforward and will have you writing more directly in no time.
How to write better
- Expand your vocabulary: Every word has a specific meaning, and in some cases, one word’s meaning is more to the point of your argument than another. The best way to communicate exactly what you want to say is by using the exact words you need to convey your meaning. The best way to expand your vocabulary is to read more. Simple as that.
- Figure out your process: Do you work better when you have an outline? A lot of people do. But some people work better by writing first and organizing later. Don’t assume that one person’s process is the right process for you. Try a few different ways to see what works best and is most efficient for you.
- Condense your draft*: It’s easier to write long than short, but nobody likes to get a 7 paragraph email. Nobody. That doesn’t mean your first draft can’t be 7 paragraphs. It just means that once you have a draft, you need to go back and figure out where to make cuts. See where you repeat yourself, choose the best phrasing you have and get rid of the rest. A lot of the writing process is getting rid of the words you wrote. Know it. Accept it. Embrace it. And start deleting.
*Important caveat: Word count standards vary widely depending on what you’re writing. So, while you don’t necessarily want a 7 paragraph email to announce a company-wide event, you might need to write 7 paragraphs (or more) to thoroughly explain a concept or process. The key to conciseness is to use only as many words as you need to get your point across. We’ll talk about this next.
Get rid of unnecessary words
Finally, a short cut to learn how to write better-getting rid of unnecessary word and phrases. While every situation is different and there can be an argument to keep any of these words/phrases in particular instances, in most cases they are unnecessary and are just adding words for the sake of adding words. Eliminating them will make your reading more clear and to the point.
Try it! Go through something you recently wrote and get rid of any of these words/phrases and see if your writing is stronger.
- Really, truly, ultimately: These are unnecessary modifiers that don’t add anything to a sentence. “I truly believe” is an overused phrase that is meaningless. Same thing with “ultimately.” “Ultimately, what we want to do is” can be deleted from your writing completely. Just tell us what you want to do. Start at the point.
- If you happen to: This is passive. “If you happen to have time, I’d love to know what you think of my idea.” Getting rid of “If you happen to” forces you to write a much stronger sentence. “I’d love to know what you think of my idea. Let’s get together tomorrow at 2:00.”
- It is important to: Again, this phrase detracts from the point of your sentence. “It is important to use spell check so you don’t make silly errors.” Take out that phrase and you have a strong, active sentence “Use spell check so you don’t make silly errors.”
- Think, believe, consider: Usually, these are used in the context of a soft argument: “I think we should consider hiring an intern.” Get rid of “I think” and “consider,” and what you have is the beginning of a stronger argument “We should hire an intern because [insert well-thought out argument here].”
- Just: “I just wanted to see if you have time” is a weak way to tell somebody you need something. Take out “just” to instantly sound more authoritative.
What other words do you think are overused and can be eliminated from most writing? Do you have any tips for writing better? We’d love to hear them! And if you’d rather get someone else to do your writing for you, drop us a line to see how we can help!