How to make your writing instantly more effective
Do you want to be a better writer? You should. Writing skills will help you get ahead in just about every profession.
So, while we’ve talked a lot in the past about ways to improve your writing, here’s one more: write less.
Write shorter, simpler words, and fewer of them. You will sound smarter and your communication will be much more effective.
To wit: when an individual wishes to convey an intent, opinion, or concept in written text it is imperative that that person be clear and concise in his or her communication style so as not to disorient the reader or obfuscate the argument the individual is attempting to put forth in said missive.
Or rather: when you’re trying to get something across in writing, keep it simple, so you don’t lose people.
See how much better that second sentence is? Can you imagine reading an entire communication, blog post, or article written in the style of the first? I can, because I see them quite often.
It’s a common error
homo sapiens people make when attempting trying to sound erudite smart. They think that complicating things does the trick. It doesn’t. It makes you look like you’re trying too hard, and people will stop reading because they can’t concentrate.
So, while I know most of you wouldn’t write something as ridiculous as my example, you might write something, say, in a cover letter like:
“I possess the ability to learn new concepts quickly.”
Don’t write that. Write this instead:
“I am a fast learner.”
Even better, of course, would be to give an example of a time you learned something fast and how it wound up earning a company a million dollars – as it’s always better to show, not tell. But you get the idea.
Never say in two words what can be said with one. Go through your writing and trim the fat. Things that you can almost always cut include adverbs, colloquialisms, and filler words such as “there” and “that.” (See more examples of stuff to cut in this great blog post.)
Drop “really” and “very.” As someone who may or may not be Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Here are some examples of phrases made shorter and better:
“There are some people who seem to think that…”
“Some people think…”
“However, the truth of the matter is that we need to do this straight away lest we lose the account.”
“But we need to do this now or we will lose the account.”
As William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, puts it: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
Simplify everything. If you’ve written 400 words, can cut it down to 300. Writing short, as every editor knows, is much harder than writing long. If you ask a writer for 800 words, they’re far more likely to write 1000 than 700. Simple writing is a skill to master.
Remember, attention spans are short. You don’t have much time. Make the most of what you have.
And here, for amusement purposes is a memo once sent out by the king of ad execs, David Ogilvy, to his staff:
- “The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
- 1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
(via Brain Pickings)