Whether you’re authoring social media posts, advertising copy, website content, or chapters of a novel, there’s always room to improve the quality of your writing. The tips offered in this article are designed to help you take your writing to the next level.
These 12 writing tips are:
- Know the basic principles of writing
- Read more
- Sketch out a solid outline first
- Develop a clear message
- Be straightforward and don’t ramble
- Experiment with word choice
- Portray your personality in your writing
- Eliminate overly complex words
- Empathize with your readers
- Anticipate your audience’s questions
- Understand that first drafts are bad most of the time
- Be a ruthless editor
1. Know the basic principles of writing
Like most disciplines, good writing flows from basic principles. Once you get these fundamental rules down—you’ll know you’re there when they’ve become second nature—you can develop your own voice and writing personality. Since rules were made to be broken, you’ll even find ways to take poetic license when it serves to further your writing narrative.
However, before going rogue on the writing rules, it’s important to get comfortable with the basics of English grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Every good writer has on their bookshelf or bookmarked on their computer a copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” and a good dictionary. Merriam-Webster is the go-to dictionary for most professional writers.
When it comes to preparing nonfiction pieces for publication, journalists and news writers, including bloggers, refer to the AP Stylebook. Meanwhile, writers involved in academic writing, business writing, and book creation tend to use The Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA, or custom style guides.
While you don’t have to memorize all the nuances in these stylebooks—they’re detailed, varied, and lengthy—it’s a good idea for all writers to be familiar with these guides, know how to use them, and refer to them frequently.
2. Read more
It should come as no surprise that most great writers are avid readers. The more you read, the more you pick up the lilt of language, the cadence of copy, and the varied voices that come through in practiced prose. Use a dictionary—online or hard copy—to confirm the meaning of words and increase your vocabulary.
Get in the habit of reading every day. Read your daily newspaper. Pick up a glossy business magazine from time to time. Follow blogs that interest you and check out ones that don’t. Delve into the pages of unfamiliar genres. If you like true crime stories, try a little romance. If you’re a hardcore sci-fi aficionado, see if you can find a piece of historical fiction that holds your interest. The idea is to familiarize yourself with as many variations in writing styles as possible so you start to find your own writing style and voice.
3. Sketch out a solid outline first
One of the most challenging aspects of producing crisp, clean copy is organizing your thoughts so you can write with clarity and purpose. The best writers create an outline of what they plan to write before putting a single sentence of content on paper or into their word processing document.
Whether you’re composing a 500-word blog post or writing a 45,000-word book, an outline provides the roadmap you need to organize your thoughts, uncover any gaps in your research or presentation, and fine-tune your messaging.
Start with an introduction. Jot down a few words that summarize your article, blog or first chapter. This is just an outline, so don’t worry about finding the perfect words to express your thoughts.
Next, create several sections. Limit each section to one thought or point you want to make. Fill in the gaps with bulleted ideas about what you plan to cover in each section. Now, look at your outline and rearrange sections so thoughts flow logically.
4. Develop a clear message
Think about why you’re writing about a particular subject. What do you want your readers to take away from the piece?
Try condensing your message into an elevator pitch, a 30-second explanation of what you hope to say through your writing. Keep working on this speech until you nail it. Developing message clarity before you start writing can save a lot of time and wasted effort.
5. Be straightforward and don’t ramble
Be careful about how you express your thoughts. If you try to relay too much information, you may lose your audience. Stick to the most salient facts and necessary descriptive phrases. If a block of text looks like too much information, it probably is.
Try to use shorter sentences and avoid unnecessary words. New writers often throw in adverbs that overcomplicate their writing. Instead of writing that something is really pretty, just say it’s beautiful.
6. Experiment with word choice
A thesaurus is your friend. Use it. One of the great joys of writing is playing around with language to find words to perfectly capture your thoughts. Step out of your comfort zone and find new ways to express yourself. Beautiful could become gorgeous, stunning, or glamorous.
While it’s great to expand your vocabulary, avoid using filler words that don’t add meaning. For example, say “we agree with that idea” rather than "we absolutely agree with that idea.” The adverb “absolutely” is a filler word that doesn’t enhance your message.
7. Portray your personality in your writing
The most effective way to develop a unique writing style is to be yourself. Let your writing reveal your personality.
Stick to a tone and phrasing that feel authentic and organic to you. Don’t be afraid to throw in a revealing anecdote when and where it makes sense.
Unless you’re compelled to follow certain grammar rules, feel free to take poetic license—within reason. For instance, if you’re from the South, you will sometimes want to write the plural of you as “y’all” rather than the grammatically correct “you.”
8. Eliminate overly complex words
Be careful not to use a 10-dollar word when a one-dollar word will do. For example, do you need to write “municipality” when describing a place as a “city” or “town” will work?
Remember, the point is not to show your readers how smart you are but rather to impart your knowledge and insights. If in doubt, choose simple words.
9. Empathize with your readers
The art of writing is the art of communication. Unless you’re the only person who will read your writing, always keep your readers in mind.
- Will my readers understand this?
- Will this interest them?
- Am I keeping my promise—made through my headline and opening sentences—to convey certain thoughts and information?
Whether you’re engaging in creative writing or penning a hard-hitting news story, you enter a relationship with your readers each time you write. Approach that relationship with empathy and a clear purpose.
10. Anticipate your audience’s questions
When writing about something unfamiliar to your audience, think about what questions they’d ask if you were engaged in a one-on-one conversation. Do your best to anticipate their questions so you can fill in any gaps as you write about your experiences, knowledge, and perspectives.
11. Understand that first drafts are bad most of the time
Writing is hard work. It’s a time-consuming process that doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. By definition, a draft is a preliminary version of what will eventually be your final piece.
First drafts are usually bad. Sometimes, they’re really bad. That’s expected. The purpose of a first draft is to transition your writing from an outline to a better draft or two to polished prose.
12. Be a ruthless editor
Proofreading and editing are essential to the writing process. You need to be your own ruthless editor. As you go through your drafts, look for instances where you can replace long sentences with short sentences without interrupting cadence or losing meaning.
Be a vigilant grammar checker. Along with carefully reviewing your own copy, take advantage of the built-in grammar and spell-check functions found in word processing programs like Microsoft Word. You can also download Grammarly, a free online office assistant that uses artificial intelligence to point out writing errors and offer editing suggestions.
If you violate a grammar rule, do it intentionally and not because you didn’t know it was an error. Pay attention to sentence structure. Keep paragraphs short, especially if you’re writing for an online audience and attempting to enhance a site’s search engine optimization (SEO).
All writers fall in love with their own words; it’s normal and inevitable. You may come up with a great-sounding turn of phrase that you want to use in a particular short story or other piece of writing.
The problem is that the words might not fit into your flow, convey your thoughts with clarity, or belong in the piece at all. If your prose is too complicated, appears a little too clever—yes, that’s a thing to avoid—or doesn’t enhance the overarching message, cut it.
If you’re not sure if something should be cut, read it aloud to yourself. Is it clear? Is it necessary? Does it enhance your point? If the answer to any of these questions is no, strike a red line through it and move on.
You might find it useful to run your copy past another pair of eyes. You can find seasoned editors on Upwork to proof your writing and point out areas for improvement.
Find freelance copywriting jobs and apply your writing skills
Whether you decide to take writing courses or hone your craft on your own, writing better takes practice. Putting effort into perfecting your writing skills has its rewards.
A good writer can always find work for everything from independent copywriting to content writing to ghostwriting. Platforms like Upwork provide a great place to start your career as an independent professional.
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