In the communications business, carefully chosen words are at the heart of what we do. Together with imagery and creative presentation, the right messaging and content are fundamental.
Writing and editing is a skill that takes quite a bit of practice; even highly intelligent, well educated people may struggle with writing lucid prose.
While this subject could easily fill a much longer blog or book, here are my top tips for how to rapidly improve your writing and editing.
Pick up one of the best books on how to be a better writer. A few of the classics are The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White; On Writing Well by William Zinsser; and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
The AP Stylebook by the editors of the Associated Press is updated annually and is the definitive reference guide to writing correctly in daily journalistic English. The Chicago Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press is influential in academia and has the best rules on citations.
Start with an outline. As a teacher of mine once said, “If you think it through clearly, it will come across clearly.” For example, in a simple essay, tell the reader what you plan to say; then present a series of main points and supporting facts or anecdotes; then reinforce your main point and close. Even if you feel overwhelmed by a writing task, the act of outlining it will force you to think it through and give you both a small victory and a nudge of momentum.
If you’re writing in a format or context that is unfamiliar to you, read some examples of that form, notice the patterns, and emulate them. For example, when I’m writing an op-ed for a particular publication, I’ll always review five or ten op-eds from recent editions to see the style and length of pieces the editors choose.
Make a checklist of the most common errors and always proofread your work against the checklist, such as:
Commas, dashes, and all punctuation
Spell check – and don’t just rely on the software – look at every word yourself
That or which
Proper treatment of numbers
Simpler sentence structure
Word choice, i.e. using more apt, precise, colorful, or intelligent words wherever possible
Help the reader skim by adding easy-to-grasp headlines, subheads, and bullets with “slugs.” Keep sentences and paragraphs short and simple.
Look for photos, charts, or other kinds of illustrations to help make your point visually.
These are just a few of my core beliefs and practices when it comes to good writing. What are some of yours? Drop us a line and let us know.