In today’s world of global communications, the written word is more important than ever before. Clear writing is your key to success in any endeavor. Use of clear writing guidelines and techniques will increase job opportunities for you as well as help to advance your career if you are already employed.
Following the tips listed below will put you on the road to writing improvement. As you use these tips, remember that writing is no different than any other undertaking in life – you have to start at the beginning to master it. All art is created through the exercise of a craft such as painting or sculpting. Every craft must be taught and learned, including writing. Clear writing is an art form because it can be learned through the craft of writing. Almost everyone can write to some degree but to write clearly is a goal worthy of achievement. The long hours and hard work it may take to get there are tasks eminently worthy of the effort. Remember that a clearly written document will speak as well of the author as the purpose it seeks to advance.
Know your reader. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you may as well not write at all.
Know your subject matter. Become a maven on the content of your writing. You need expert knowledge to write with authority on any subject. If you try to fake it, your reader will see right through you. Take the time to research your subject matter thoroughly. The result will be high quality content, a vital ingredient for any successful writer.
Write in a conversational tone. This doesn’t mean engaging in meaningless chit-chat in a serious letter such as a job application but try to avoid overly stiff, formal writing. A relaxed, conversational style should be what you are seeking. This tone of writing will become apparent to you the more you write – and read.
Be concise. When I was in Toastmasters years ago, we relied on a simple mantra to guide our thinking about speechmaking: stand up, speak up, shut up. The same idea applies to writing: say what you have to say in as few words as possible. Avoid wordiness.
Be consistent. Use grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc., in a consistent manner throughout your writing to avoid having the reader believe that you are a careless or sloppy writer.
Use less jargon, i.e., words that are particular to a specific trade or profession. Use of words that you may know but are unfamiliar to the reader may cause the reader to see you as a pompous writer and to view your writing with suspicion.
Avoid vague or big words. Be specific. Write in plain, ordinary English to avoid reader frustration. The word “cool” is often used in today’s conversation but it’s too vague and abstract to be useful in clear writing. Use “end” instead of “terminate,” and “use” instead of “utilize.” Sharpen your word selection by resorting to an unabridged dictionary. Also, avoid an overly general use of words, which is the product of a lazy mind. A good writer uses specifics to encourage visualization and the formation of word pictures in the reader’s mind. Stronger writing will always use definite, specific language because it will be far easier for the reader to understand a concept when the reader’s mind can form images.
Use short sections. The sight of long, dense, unbroken text is intimidating to a reader. Break it up into shorter sections with a good topic sentence at the beginning of each section. Your reader will be very appreciative. In the same vein, keep your sentences shorter.
Prefer the active voice, i.e., express action directly. In other words, to borrow a thought from the legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer, you should “Accentuate the positive” in your writing. More specifically, the active voice makes it clear who is supposed to perform the action in the sentence. When using the active voice in a sentence, the person who’s acting is the subject of the sentence. When the passive voice is used, the person who is acted upon is the subject of the sentence. The active voice eliminates ambiguity about responsibility for action; the passive voice obscures that responsibility. For example, “You need a special permit to fish in that lake,” is better than “A special permit is needed to fish in that lake.” More than any other writing technique, use of the active voice will improve the quality of your writing.
Following these techniques will help make your writing clear and persuasive.
Be positive in your approach to writing. Don’t assume it’s time consuming or unimportant.
All of the writing tips appearing on this blog and on previous blogs on this site may be viewed under one cover in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” which is available at amazon.com in print or on Kindle. The book and my two Civil War articles are featured on my website at http://www.agregardie.com.
Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.