Many of us make a New Year’s resolution to get better at something. To start the year right, I want to share a few ways you can become a better writer in 2017.
1) Read, Read, Read
A few months ago, we discussed how reading can make you a better writer. It expands your vocabulary, strengthens your cognitive skills, and teaches you more about the subject matter.
Pro-tip: Consider reading a different genre each time. If you read a book a month, consider reading that new novel you wanted to start this month, and then switch to a non-fiction book next month. Challenge yourself to read about a different subject each month.
2) Don’t Bury the Lede
This is a surefire way to make your writing better. Don’t bury your lede; start your writing with the most important or most interesting information.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Did your intro interest you? If not, you might want to change it.
Pro-tip: Wait awhile after you write your intro to reread it. This way you’ll have some time to get it out of your head so you can look at it with fresh eyes.
3) Use the Fog Index
We’ve all written something we believe makes sense, only to show to someone outside our industry who has no clue what we’re saying. Or, we might think that a sentence we wrote sounds great until someone reads it through and can’t follow it from the beginning to the end.
If this is the case, you can use the Fog Index or the Flesch Reading Ease formula. Both of these formulas give your piece a reading ease rating and help you determine your piece’s problem areas, such as long sentences.
Pro-tip: Read your writing aloud. This will give you a better idea of whether your sentences are too long. If you are out of breath by the end of a sentence, consider changing it. Also, look into replacing technical words (e.g., replacing myocardial infarction with heart attack).
4) Use a Thesaurus
Try to vary the words you use. Depending on your industry and your audience, this could mean choosing more sophisticated words or simply using a variety of words to keep your writing from sounding repetitive.
Don’t forget clarity is most important. Do not use synonyms for the sake of using them. Use a thesaurus to identify words that add clarity to your writing.
Pro-tip: Don’t go crazy. Even though it is good to expand your vocabulary, remember to use words your audience will understand, e.g., use pinched nerve instead of radiculopathy when writing for a general audience.
5) Consider Your Medium
Remember that your content will look different on different mediums. If you want your content to be mobile-friendly, keep your paragraphs short and use other formatting that makes the content user-friendly.
Pro-tip: Check the content on your phone. See how long the paragraphs are, and if you think the paragraphs are too long, try to make them shorter.
6) Avoid Passive Voice
It may seem easier to write in passive voice because that’s how a lot of people speak.
However, writing in active voice will make your writing stronger in most cases.
Pro-tip: To determine whether you are using passive or active voice, use the “by zombies” method or activate the passive voice checker on Microsoft Word.
7) Consider a Different Approach
Remember that there are different ways to provide similar information. Don’t just fall back on a general template that can make your writing boring or blend in with the rest of the content out there. Try to think of new ways to get your point across. Consider tables, bullet lists, infographics, etc.
Pro-tip: Before writing, make a list of questions you think your reader wants answered. Then answer these questions to supply your readers with the information they need and want.
8) Check Out Some Apps/Resources
One of the best ways to become a better writer is to take advantage of the resources and apps out there designed to help you improve your writing.
Pro-tip: See which resources work best for you. Don’t give up if an app doesn’t work for you; try another one.
9) Always Proofread
Proofreading is arguably the most important part of becoming a better writer. In fact, it is so important that it was the subject of the very first Copy Corner. Proofreading will help you ensure you haven’t made any errors — factually or grammatically.
It can also help you determine what areas might need some improvement, e.g., weak intros.
Pro-tip: Wait a few hours before proofreading your writing. If you read it right after writing it, you may be more likely to miss any mistakes you’ve made.
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