How these few insights help you become a better writer (and communicator)
The past years, I've been obsessed with writing as clean and persuasive as possible.
I now believe I have the tools to practice until perfect.
In this summary of what I've learned, we'll cover motivation, writing leads, and using all the words you need, but no more.
There are a few reasons why you'd want to write something. Your motivation could be:
- Sharing your excitement about something with your reader.
- Persuading others of something you believe is important.
- You need to get something off your chest.
Combining a motivation with an objective helps structure your content before it's written. An objective could be to prove the status quo wrong, or making an overwhelming concept approachable.
Once you have your pair, a way to continue is to write leads that keep your audience curious.
Assume the perspective of your reader. Write down all the questions they could ask about the topic you're writing about. Rank the questions on how much they interest you.
Then, rewrite the questions as leads.
Can you write a lead so powerful that nobody will at best skim your content? turns into Write a lead so powerful, everybody reads your article from beginning to end.
Use these leads to outline your article.
What I do at this stage is I pour all of my brain out on paper. I avoid being self-critical and editing myself. Once the bad ideas are on paper, good ideas start forming. Write like the backspace button doesn’t exist.
After I've done my brain dump, I start editing.
When content is not clear or too wordy, it is ignored. That makes redundancy the enemy of clear writing. What follows is how you strip every sentence—every paragraph—to its cleanest components.
First, avoid all words that end in "-ly". Most adverbs are unnecessary.
Second, stay away from qualifiers such as time words, attention getters, and emphasis words. Hit the search function of your editor and delete the following redundancies:
- Time of, Period of (time words)
- A total of, Amount of (quantity words)
- In order, In fact, In case (attention getters)
- Any, All, Some (emphasis words)
There are more: A bit, A Little, Sort Of, Kind of, Rather, Quite, Very, Too, Pretty much, In a sense. Hit backspace on them. They dilute your writing.
Most adjectives are unnecessary, as well. We knew the lighthouse is tall before you mentioned it.
Rephrase every paragraph with the focus on succinctness. Remove unnecessary detail and rewrite using simple wording. A good writer doesn’t need to show off their vocabulary.
The last step is to let someone read your content back to you. I let Siri read it to me (System Preferences → Accessibility → Spoken Content). You'll notice errors in the flow of the article. Rearrange the paragraphs until you're satisfied.
All that is left is to practice. For example, I understand that I’m a long way from finding my voice. My style. However, I’m confident that that’ll come over time.
If you’re curious about improving your writing, I recommend 'On Writing Well' by William Zinsser. Brogan's Clear Technical Writing is a great resource, as well. I have enjoyed Ann Handley's 'Everybody Writes'.