Today, you’re going to learn five key ways to improve your writing skills. Apply these lessons to every word you choose, every sentence you write, every paragraph you create… and you can be sure your writing will be efficient and your ideas will be clear.
Of course, there are more than five keys to good writing that you should know. But to get started, I’ve selected the five ways that I think will be of the most help to you right now in your writing career.
These keys apply to every type of writing — whether you’re writing a memo to your boss, composing a letter of complaint to your bank, or sending a thank-you note to somebody who did something nice for you. They separate an adequate writer from a superior one.
Key #1: Don’t Waste Your Verbs
The verb “to be” is one of the weakest verbs in the English language. For stronger, more descriptive sentences, replace “to be” with verbs that do more. Eliminate “to be,” and your writing becomes more vibrant, more interesting, and more persuasive.
Notice how much better sentence (b) is than sentence (a):
- The owner was in the doorway at the back of the bar.
- The owner LEANED in the doorway at the back of the bar.
Similarly, the verb “to have” doesn’t gain you much ground. Try to eliminate it as well, and you’ll find your sentences are more economical and active.
Again, notice how much better sentence (b) is than sentence (a):
- A storm is brewing over banking-privacy laws, and it could have a significant impact on Caribbean economies in the year to come.
- A storm is brewing over banking-privacy laws, and it could SIGNIFICANTLY impact Caribbean economies in the year to come.
Key #2: Write to Express Rather Than to Impress
Always choose words that make reading easy for your reader. Don’t let him get tangled up in your language. Instead, choose the words you’d use if you were speaking to your reader. Write the way you talk.
SHORTER words are better.
- Instead of “assemble,” use “meet.”
- Instead of “domesticate,” use “tame.”
- Instead of “happenstance,” use “fate.”
SPECIFIC words are better.
- Instead of “greenery,” use “fern.”
- Instead of “large,” use “329-pound.”
- Instead of “gem,” use “diamond.”
COMMON words are better.
- Instead of “automobile,” use “car.”
- Instead of “criminal,” use “crook.”
- Instead of “dispatch,” use “send.”
Key #3: Use Fewer Words
You should never use more words than you absolutely need to. Oops! What I mean to say is: Never use more words than you need. Simply put, use fewer words. You may have a lot to say. Fine. Say it in more than one sentence.
Short sentences keep your copy moving forward. When your sentences are too long, your reader gets bogged down in the language and confused by what you’re trying to say.
Your job is to make it easy for a reader. You do that by trimming words.
And if you’re struggling to find just the right word, check out our article on how to find spectacular synonyms and antonyms.
Key #4: Express One Idea in One Sentence
When you include too many ideas in one sentence, you dilute the impact of the sentence. Your reader will give your ideas more attention when you make those ideas accessible.
To do that, limit your ideas to one per sentence.
This confusing sentence contains more than one idea:
Spring or fall weddings are in abundance on Saturday afternoons: wander the streets and observe crowds dressed in stunning, celebratory attire.
This version is better:
In the spring and fall, weddings are common on Saturday afternoons. You can wander the street and see crowds in celebratory dress.
Key #5: Say What You Mean
Say something with every sentence you write. Don’t pad your copy with high-minded “filler” or tiptoe around an issue by weaving a complicated web of words. Instead, get to the point.
But before you can do that… you have got to know what your point is. So,
- Figure out what you really mean to say.
- Say what you mean to say.
Each of these five key ways to improve your writing skills should become habits for you. And the only way to make that happen is to revise, revise, revise.
Keep these keys on a checklist, and each time you write something, go back through it and make sure you’ve done each task properly. Soon, you’ll find that it all becomes second nature.