Writing is one of the most widely used methods of communication, yet many still find it to be among the most challenging. We constantly participate in various forms of writing: website copy, creative briefs, sales collateral, or even simple, day-to-day emails. Chances are you don’t have the interest or time to take professional writing courses or read the AP Stylebook, so here are a few tips to hone your writing skills with minimal effort.
State key information first.
See what I did there? Like you, people are busy and don’t usually read the entire piece. You’ll attract more readers if you include the most important information in the first paragraph. It’s a common misconception that background information needs to come first to set the stage and validate what’s coming next. Explain background details after you capture the reader’s attention, and they’ll be more inclined to keep reading.
Keep it short.
Wordiness lacks focus. Readers often lack patience and get lost in the details. Delete words that aren’t absolutely essential and don’t presume more information is better. For example, my journalism teacher taught us to remove all instances of “that” which weren’t critical. Try it. You’ll be shocked at how over-used that word is, and even more shocked by how few sentences actually need it.
Use the active voice.
It’s more clear and concise than the passive voice. Make the subject directly perform the action to get your point across. “Tom mailed the letter” is much more effective and succinct than “The letter was mailed by Tom.”
Know your audience.
This is crucial. You wouldn’t talk to your manager the same way you would to your 10-year-old niece—so don’t make that mistake in your writing. Before you start writing, ask yourself these audience-centric questions:
- Who is the primary audience?
- Do I have multiple audiences to address?
- How knowledgeable is my audience about the subject?
- What platform am I writing for?
For example, you don’t want to make your readers feel inept by speaking in jargon if most aren’t familiar with industry terms. But you also don’t want to define every term if your audience already knows them, since your readers will most likely get bored and move on.
Make time to proofread.
Proofreading is an absolute must for even the most experienced writers. You may not need to proofread every email you send, but if your writing has a large audience, will be published, printed, or live online or in various forms of media, you must not skip this step. In fact, not only should you proofread yourself, but you should ideally have at least one other set of eyes on it. Refer to my previous blog entry titled “Tips for Better Proofreading” for ways to improve your editing skills.
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