5 Writing Tips Everyone Should Know

Even though most of us sat through countless hours of English instruction, we don’t feel confident in our writing. Why is that, and how can we fix it?

English is a tough language to master. It seems to break the rules as often as it follows them, and if you don’t reinforce those rules constantly, they can slip away from you. Thanks to Microsoft Word, we can figure out when we’ve misspelled a word (that little squiggly red line is a lifesaver). MS Word also recommends helpful hints about sentence structure, but unless you understand the underlying grammar, you accept MS Word’s correction at your peril.

So, how can you improve your writing? Here are some helpful hints

  1. Avoid mistakes by proofreading. Ideally, you can trade proofreading duties with a trusted colleague, since our brains often trick us into reading what we meant to write rather than what we put on the page.
  2. Be sure you know what you want to say; then say it. By all means, tell a good story; just be careful you don’t get so caught up in the storytelling that your readers can’t figure out what your point is.
  3. Use active voice. Active voice means the subject of the sentence does something rather than having something done to him/her or it.
    Passive voice: The very best cancer is the one that is prevented and the second best is the one that gets caught early.
    Active voice: The very best cancer is the one we prevent and the second best is the one we catch early.
  4. Choose strong verbs and powerful adjectives. Use words that make your writing come to life, words that enliven the senses–help people smell the raindrops as they hit the pavement and feel the watermelon juice as it runs down their chins.
  5. Get rid of your fancy filter. Use straightforward language, and use as few words as possible to drive your point home. People aren’t impressed by a bunch of words they don’t know. They are impressed when you can explain a complex idea clearly and thoughtfully.

Many grammar rules are black and white; either you’re right or you’re wrong. However, as language evolves, writers have to decide when they want to adopt new words, for example. Remember when the word “email” had a hyphen? And have you noticed that “health care” is becoming “healthcare”? The key to navigating these gray zones is to decide how you want to manage the grammar conundrum and then be consistent. Happily, you do not need to figure out how to proceed on your own. If you’re a journalist or blogger, I recommend the Associated Press Stylebook. If you’re a book author, I’d go with the Chicago Manual of Style.

If you’re not sure whether your writing is good, try reading it aloud. If it’s awkward to read, then it’s awkward. Period. Rewrite it.