Writing process

How to become a better writer

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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Writing process

Copy editor check list

Copy editing can take awhile. Unlike proofreading, which is more of a final polishing of your piece of content, copy editing is done early in the writing process and can lead to a complete overhaul or reorganization of your content.

There are a lot of things copy editors need to review, which means they will need to read through the copy several times before sending it back to the writer for revisions.

When you’re first starting out, you might find that you go back and forth between writing and copy editing multiple times. As you get better and more experienced, you’ll know what mistakes you frequently make, which you’ll start avoiding altogether.

Pro tip: Read through the entire piece of content once before you start making notes. This way, you’ll understand how the writer is framing the piece of content so you can make more informed decisions about organization and sentence structure.

Copy editor checklist

  • Check organization
    • Does each paragraph transition well into the next?
    • Are like ideas in the same section of the content?
    • Are headers and sub-headers descriptive?
  • Tighten up sentences
    • If you need to read a sentence twice to figure out what it’s saying, it needs to be revised
    • Break up long sentences into two or more sentences
  • Check for language consistency
    • Does the tone stay the same throughout the piece of content?
    • Does the writing switch between first, second and/or third person?
  • Check for clear language
    • Look for redundancy in sentences and paragraphs and get rid of the weakest one(s)
    • Check for unnecessary words that clutter the content and obscure the writer’s intent
    • Read out loud for clunky words, phrases and sentences
  • Run the paper through a grammar/spell checker, like Grammarly, for obvious grammar and spelling errors.
Writing process

Proofreading check list

Whether you’re proofreading on your own or you have someone else doing it for you, make sure you have a plan. This checklist is a basic checklist for web blogs and web content. Feel free to copy it and customize it based on the exact type of content you’re proofreading.

Note: You won’t just proofread once and be done. Your draft will have to be read a few times to make sure everything is correct. Remember, this is the last step before hitting “publish,” so take your time and be thorough.

Pro tip: Print out the piece of content you’re proofreading and read it out loud. You’re less likely to skip over words and punctuation when the content is printed out than when it’s on a screen. Reading out loud forces you to catch more mistakes since your brain has to slow down in order for you to speak.

Proofreading Checklist:

  • Check for spelling errors
  • Check for grammar errors
    • Check for run-on sentences
    • Check for sentence fragments
    • Make sure commas are all in the correct places and used consistently
    • Make sure apostrophes are used correctly and in their proper places
  • Check all headers and sub-headers for correct spelling
  • Check formatting
  • Check font size for consistency
  • Check punctuation
    • Make sure quotation marks aren’t accidentally doubled
    • Make sure commas are inside quotation marks
    • Make sure every sentence ends with a period