Good writing is one part art, one part science and two parts hard work. To improve your writing skills, you have to refine your knowledge.
If you’re willing to learn the tricks of the trade and gradually hone your craft, then your writing will be crisp, clear and professional. Here are five actionable tips that will help you sharpen your writing skills:
1. Create an outline
Posting a tweet or writing a text message is far different than composing an article or blog post. If you want to present your thoughts in a logical order, you must develop an outline before “putting pen to paper.” An outline will help you stay on point and will make it easier for your readers to grasp and retain the main points of your article.
The great thing about an outline is that it doesn’t have to be extremely detailed to be effective. For example, you can use a simple template to organize your thoughts, such as:
- Main point 1
- Subpoint to point 1
- Main point 2
- Subpoint to point 2
- Main point 3
- Subpoint to point 3
2. Use active voice
Many novice writers tend to use passive voice liberally. For example, the sentence “The ball was tossed to Mark by Jim.” is in passive voice. It hides the doer of the action and emphasizes the receiver of it.
The problem is that passive construction can make a piece of writing dull or confusing. It’s usually much better to write in active voice, e.g., “Jim tossed the ball to Mark.” If you want to add some snap to your writing, see whether you can reword more of your sentences to contain active voice.
3. Don’t constantly repeat the same word
One of the charms of English is the sheer multitude of synonyms for just about any word. Some writers don’t take advantage of this feature as they should. As a result, their writing comes across as repetitive and (dare I say) amateurish.
You can avoid this pitfall and improve your writing skills by using appropriate synonyms to the fullest extent. Also, substitute pronouns for proper nouns when the situation calls for it. For instance, which of the following paragraphs sounds better?
- Phil drank his coffee. The coffee was lava-hot, and it burned Phil’s mouth. Phil winced in pain, and he gingerly set his cup of coffee down on the table.
- Phil drank his espresso. The coffee was lava-hot, and it burned his mouth. Wincing in pain, he gingerly set the scalding beverage down on the table.
You’d likely agree that the varied use of synonyms and pronouns in the second example made the entire paragraph flow more smoothly.
4. Eliminate filler words and phrases
It can be easy to stuff your writing with “fluff” (and tempting, too, if you’re dealing with a word count). However, filler words and phrases like “among other things,” “each and every,” and “basically” can detract from your writing’s conciseness.
5. Edit ruthlessly
A good rule of thumb in writing is to never expect your first draft to be your last draft. Be willing to edit your writing without mercy. If a single sentence or a line of reasoning doesn’t contribute to one of your main points, consider removing it entirely.
Bill Wheeler said, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” If you practice implementing the five tips discussed above, that maxim will apply to your writing skills as well.
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