Good writing is one of the hardest things to get right. And in our digital age, it is gradually becoming a precious commodity, not dissimilar to the skills required to handcraft a beautiful piece of furniture.
Good writing goes further than the ability to string words together, or insert a comma in the right place. It is about taking your reader on a journey, by creating a story they will believe and immerse themselves in, from beginning to end.
Good writing can come across as effortless. If you can make it look that way, chances are you’ve done a good job.
Whether you’re writing a media release, an editorial or a blog, here are five tips that will help improve your writing. Some of these may seem like no-brainers but you’d be surprised how often people stray from these basic concepts.
1. Keep it simple
One common misconception about writing is that it has to be clever to be good.
The more elaborate the vocabulary, the more convoluted the sentence, the more impressive the result, some believe. The opposite is true.
Keep it simple. Think about how you would tell a story to your grandmother. What words do you use in everyday life? Those are the words you should go to in your writing. Words that come naturally, not words you have to dig up in a thesaurus and can barely pronounce.
Of course, it’s sometimes good to reach for a different word. But generally speaking, the simpler the writing, the more effectively you will get your message across.
Clarity goes hand in hand with simplicity. Good communications should be clear.
Think about what you want to say, and write it in a way that is easy to access and interpret. This doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down. It means you need to state what you want to say without seeking ambiguity for its own sake, or because you think it makes the writing more interesting.
If, for example, you are working on branding or marketing, think about whether you’ve picked the right words to deliver the messages you’re promoting. What will readers take away from your words? Will they easily get what you’re trying to say, without having to guess your intentions?
3. Avoid clichés
Clichés, like all bad habits, are difficult to get rid of.
Be vigilant in your writing because clichés can creep up on you and before you know it, you’ll be falling back on lazy expressions like ‘going forward’, ‘solutions-driven’ and ‘world-class’.
The danger of clichés is that they have become so overused that their meaning is diluted or lost. They lack substance. Use a cliché and the chances are no one will remember what you said. Your words will lose their impact. On the other hand, a well-chosen word can be meaningful. Again, it doesn’t have to be a clever, five-syllable word you’ve just discovered in a dictionary. There are plenty of everyday words you can turn to, to get your point across.
Good writers check their facts. If you want to be taken seriously, and to be heard, you have to earn your reader’s trust.
Make sure you review what you are saying, by checking references and ensuring quotes by sources are accurate and have not been taken out of context. Present both sides of a story to offer readers as balanced an account as you can.
Whether you’re writing an article, a media release, a blog entry or an editorial, it pays to review your words carefully. Ask yourself, am I able to stand by what I’ve written?
5. Know your audience
When you write, think about format and audience, because these considerations will determine the style and content of your text.
Who are you writing for? Are your words aimed at primary school children on a field trip or a group of neuroscientists attending a conference? The more you know about the subject matter, about the context and most of all about your readers, the better you will connect with them through your writing.
One final piece of advice: enjoy the process. Good writing is difficult but it pays. It gets you a captive audience, and the satisfaction that comes from producing something of good quality, like the treasured, handcrafted piece of furniture that is passed down from one generation to the next.