Unlike graphic design or accounting, writing is something each of us must do every day, whether it’s a big-time proposal or just an e-mail reply.
I am comfortable saying that I don’t know everything about writing. However, in my twelve years as a professional writer, I’ve found three easy-to-apply techniques that will dramatically and immediately improve your writing.
Read– takes two minutes, I timed it– and try these techniques. I promise they will positively impact on your writing.
1. Use Active (Not Passive) Voice
When you use words like is, am, was, were, and are (all forms of ‘to be’), you’re using passive voice. These words make your sentences weak and flabby and take the punch out what you’re saying.
Compare these two sentences:
We are going to be launching…
We will launch…
Doesn’t that second sentence sound more purposeful and direct?
It’s impossible to avoid passive voice completely. However, next time you spot it in your writing, try using a strong verb instead and give your thoughts a more forceful, powerful edge.
2. Make Your Writing Concise
Shakespeare was right: brevity is the soul of wit.
You can further strengthen your writing by condensing your sentences.
Compare these two sentences:
We have the ability to research…
We can research…
Note that both phrases use active voice, but doesn’t the second sentence sound leaner and more to-the-point? Make your writing as concise as possible and turn your thoughts from watered-down coffee into concentrated high-octane espresso.
3. Re-read Your Work (Out Loud)
You’re already taking the extra minute to run spell-check, and that’s good, but it’s not always enough to catch every goof. Even scanning the page doesn’t always ferret out all the problems because our eyes tend to race ahead.
But taking the time to read your work out loud will force you to slow down a little, perhaps enough to catch those hard-to-spot errors.
And by the way, if you happened to spot the error I’ve left in this article, leave a comment. I’m buying lunch for the first person who nails it.
– Matthew Porter
PS: Sometimes bad grammar can be good, even classic. When is this appropriate? Check back this Friday and find out.
And some excellent advice- I’ll need to bookmark this page!
OK, I’ll bite, though if I’m right you can pass on the free lunch to another client. 🙂
You use passive voice when you say “I am comfortable saying that I don’t know everything about writing.” (though actually I think the sentence sounds fine)
You use an awkward phrasing that strikes me as wrong, though could just be my hearing it in my head: “I promise they will positively impact on your writing.” I think it would be better saying “I promise they will have a positive impact on your writing” or maybe “I promise they will positively impact your writing.”
Good thoughts–I’ve suggested the “read out-loud” bit to my students for years; best possible way to catch errors if you don’t have someone you trust who can proof-read for you.
Amy wins! By pointing out an error I missed! Physician heal thyself, right? Porter: 0, Transparency: 1
All errors (intentional and otherwise) have now been corrected, so don’t go crazy looking for them — couldn’t sleep until I got those fixed, even if it was to illustrate a point. Gift card is heading your way, Amy. Thanks for playing!
Good points all around, Carl. I like your take on the ‘positively impact’ line better. The ‘planted’ error was a word that appeared twice in a row, one at the end of of a line, the next at the start of the sentence under it. Unless you read it out loud, really difficult to find those. And good added point, Carl, about asking someone to proofread your work. I think Amy’s keen eye proved the wisdom of that.
That IS awesome! They say that writers make the best coders.