Quick Writing Tips to Make It Look Like You Know What You’re Doing

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:

  1. Who is the primary audience?
  2. Do I have multiple audiences to address?
  3. How knowledgeable is my audience about the subject?
  4. 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.

For more tips and insights, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

From Playwright to President: A Brief History of CI

I grew up in San Diego and graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in English. After college, I moved back to San Diego and started working in Qualcomm’s marketing department. At the time, it was a dynamic start-up company with less than 300 employees. After four years, I decided to pursue some creative writing goals and moved back to Santa Barbara, CA where I wrote and produced a play and had the obligatory day job of waiting tables.

The play was titled “Other People’s Dreams” and was performed at the Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara. The story was about two struggling playwrights who were so far Off-Broadway they were in Syracuse, NY. After years of not finding success with their artistic theater scripts, one of the writers submitted a very commercially appealing play to a well-known producer who had rejected all of their previous attempts. The producer had artistic aspirations of his own and offered the writers a Faustian bargain to write a new play and tell everyone he wrote it. Everyone got what they deserved in the end.

After the play, I moved back to San Diego where a friend at Qualcomm reasoned that, if I could write a play, I could write a manual. I became a technical writing contractor, which segued into additional copywriting duties. In 1999, we legally incorporated Consistent Image Inc. and also started providing technical writing, graphic design, and project management services for Sprint Wireless. Since then, we have continued to work with Sprint and Qualcomm providing a variety of writing and creative services and have also worked with Sony VAIO, LG, Denso, Swisslog Logistics, Legrand, and other multi-national corporations.

Our current staff includes creative directors, project managers, technical writers, copywriters, and a Ph.D. in biology to work with life science companies. Our future plans include continued, sustainable growth in both the high-tech and life science industries, while retaining our current client roster and building new corporate partnerships.

Tips for Better Proofreading

Remember when you wrote that brilliant – no, life-changing – article you were excited to share with the world, only to discover after it went to press that your argument was undermined by typos? You agonized over your diction, syntax, and tone, while simultaneously composing a natural masterpiece that would cause a flood of single tears to be shed across the nation. Countless hours were spent scrubbing for errors until they were all eradicated…or so you thought.

Continue reading → Tips for Better Proofreading

The Other Type of Writer’s Block

In general, I tend to think of writer’s block as that time when you’re completely stumped and have no idea how to start writing something. You’re sitting in your comfortable desk chair, your hand-selected tunes queued in a new Spotify playlist, your double latte is hot and fresh in your favorite mug, and then smack! You can’t think of one word to write. If anything, you start a sentence, then erase it. You start another one, then leave it incomplete and start anew. Then you go back and erase that one and so on. To me, this is the standard writer’s block and one that we’ve actually discussed here on our blog several months ago.

Continue reading → The Other Type of Writer’s Block

Spacing Out

When I was younger, I often wrote longhand using pen and paper, and avoided computers for as long as I could. The first computer I ever owned was a hand-me-down Compaq given to me as a birthday gift by my uncle, a tech savant who has a basement that looks like some long forgotten storage bunker in an abandoned Microsoft factory. For some reason he has multiple computer monitors, HP printers, cords, cables, motherboards, diskettes, and more surge guards than the Home Depot.

Continue reading → Spacing Out

The Curious Case of the Serial Comma

First introduced by the Oxford University Press, the Oxford Comma (better known as the Serial Comma) is used before the word “and” in a list. British English does not use the Oxford comma, though it certainly has a clear purpose in helping to define the separate items mentioned in a list while eliminating confusion. My belief is that the serial comma should be used consistently, even if it doesn’t seem required by the sentence or list. Also known better to Patriots fans and New Englanders as the Harvard Comma, a majority of popular U.S. style guides advise to always use the comma, chiefly for the sake of clarity. Continue reading → The Curious Case of the Serial Comma

How to Beat Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there before—hunched over the computer, knuckles rapping on the desk, music turned down to a low volume, the cursor blinking on a blank white page. It’s inevitable. All writers deal with the dreaded Writer’s Block at some point during the creative process, regardless of how prepared or motivated we may feel. Even with access to a detailed, step-by-step outline, it can still sometimes be a major chore to get going, to put ideas into words, to transform those words into sentences that will capture the attention of your audience, or communicate a concept clearly.
Continue reading → How to Beat Writer’s Block

The Semicolon–Essential or Unnecessary?

Author Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

I don’t have many pet peeves as a writer, no particular style guides that I follow unless specifically determined by a client or project, however…if there is one littlepesky issue that has always nagged me both as a writer and reader, it’s the seemingly baffling appearance of semicolons.
Continue reading → The Semicolon–Essential or Unnecessary?