12 Most Infallible Ways to Improve your Writing

12 Most Infallible Ways to Improve your Writing



The demand for all kinds of interesting written content is surging. But take care before you publish or share — because the goal isn’t just to create content but get an audience.

Here are 12 ways to make sure your stuff is up to snuff.

1. Make it BIG

Literally. Zoom to a view of 500 percent and then proofread. You’ll catch typos and extra words much more easily.

2. Read it out loud

This works whether you read it on the screen or from a print out. The point is to actually hear yourself saying what you’ve written.

3. Adjust, based on how that sounds

As you go, if a sentence sounds stilted or confusing, stop and fix it. If you don’t, things will sound the same way (or worse) to your audience.

4. Hunt for prepositions to strike

By adding in extra words, beyond what’s needed to straighten out the meaning, readers will tune out and put down your work and walk away since they don’t know what it’s about.

Yikes — 11 prepositions! Here’s the same sentence in two words: Avoid them.

5. Test for fuzziness

Is every word you chose clear? Can you select a more precise word? Consider using a visual thesaurus to help pick the right word or keep a list of strong, active verbs — the foundation of clear writing.

6. Consider spell check an evil trap

It is truly devious. Blame it for the rise of “pubic relations professionals” and other embarrassing mistakes that don’t include a misspelling. Use spell check, but don’t rely only on it to catch bloopers.

7. Remember that rewriting is not failure

While proofing, you might find you need more than just a tweak or two. You might need to do some editing and rewriting. That’s okay. It’s not a set back, but a way forward to clearer content. You can smooth out a rough patch by rewriting and then return to a lighter proofing treatment of the piece.

8. Think “noun-verb”

Clear writing explains. Engaging content enthralls. People share it. Then, your credibility grows. Your reputation spreads. Five sentences in 16 words — all with a noun-verb construction. (That’s half the words I used in the death by preposition sentence in #4, by the way, and much clearer.)

9. Short sentences rule

Short sentences tend to be easy to understand. It’s fine to use longer ones that are perfectly clear, but splice them between short sentences when possible. This gives readers a break and makes them want to keep going.

10. Use the “tweet it trick”

This is my phrase for forcing yourself to simplify something in writing. Pretend you must tweet the thought. Be ruthless and cut yourself off at 140 characters. Now, work until it’s clear. You’ll get there. It just might take a few minutes. I tweeted this 131-character example, which I could’ve written an entire blog post about:

The skill of swiftly skimming, assessing info is no longer just helpful. In this content crazy, social media age, it's now crucial.
Becky Gaylord

11. Pay attention to punctuation

Oh, it matters all right! Oh it matters, all right?

http://fieend.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Lets-Eat-Grandma.jpgphoto credit

12. Don’t rush

Catching errors and producing clear content takes more time. Sorry, but it’s true.

Most writers seem to have their own tricks for making their writing smoother, clearer and better. These are 12 of my favorites. I’d love to know some of yours!

Featured image courtesy of Stephen A. Wolfe licensed via Creative Commons.

Becky Gaylord


Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.

468 ad