Are you are a reluctant writer? Do you groan when you sit down at the keyboard, knowing that you need to knock something out fast? Do you feel unsure of your communication skills even when you “only” need to craft an email? Well, you’re not alone. Even professional communicators have days where their writing chops seem to be utter lacking.
Fortunately for us all, there is a ton of help out there. I recently came upon a short but potent guide from Ragan, “10 ways to improve your writing today.” If nothing else, the promise of instant gratification prompted me to read it, and I’m glad I did. By the way, it’s only about 2 pages long, so I recommend you click the link and have at it.
My five favorite tips
- “Have a point.” Arguably, this may be the most important tip, because so many of us don’t necessarily know what we’re going to say when we start writing. We end up meandering, to the annoyance of our readers. The Ragan guide says, “Two related points in the same article or email are fine. Two disparate messages should be offered separately.”
- “Look up words.” If you’re not sure of what a word means, look it up. I’m a big fan of dictionary.com. It’s fast and efficient and keeps you from looking foolish.
- “Punctuate properly.” Yes, learning the basics of punctuation seems like a bore. But keeping a copy of “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” or “Woe is I” is a great idea, and believe it or not, these books are funny as well as informative. Here, a big thank you to Miss Thompson, my 10th grade English teacher, a stickler for proper punctuation and mistress of the diagrammed sentence.
- “Match pronouns to their antecedents.” Sounds a bit fussy, doesn’t it? Yet it’s important to be clear about what a pronoun refers to. Ragan’s example: “Vera went over to Malvina’s house so they could work on her penmanship. Whose penmanship? Vera went over to Malvina’s house so they could work on Vera’s penmanship.”
- “Cut it back.” As Ragan puts it, “Prune your writing as you would the dead branches of a shrub.” So often, we writers (reluctant or otherwise) are fighting a deadline. The words may pour out of us—or they may not—but we feel that we don’t have the luxury of time to review our work. If you’ve finished your piece at 3 pm and you need to deliver it by 4, take a walk around the block, clean the litter box, or have a cup of tea. You’ll be amazed how these simple activities will shift your perspective and make it easier to do some judicious cutting.
Good writers are typically good thinkers. If you see yourself as a good thinker but have some qualms about your writing, I recommend taking the time to improve your writing. It really will make a difference in your life.