These days, writing well is increasingly important since so much of our interaction online relies on direct and clear communication. But the thought of writing can fluster many people. Even those who work in marketing and communications can shy away from writing newsletters or blog posts. The good news is, like most things, writing is simply a skill, and you can get better at it the more you practise. Whether you write marketing material, e-blasts, newsletters, or blog posts, there are always ways to improve. If you use these 3 tips, you will immediately refine your writing.
1. Map out what you are going to write
Problem: Failing to plan. It’s a rare writer who can fly by the seat of their pants and pen solid material on their first try. Unplanned writing can come across as disjointed or confusing, and often ends up taking longer to complete because of this lack of vision.
Solution: Map out a writing plan before you start. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but will make a huge difference when distilling what is important to include and recognizing what should be left out.
As you draw up your writing map, clarify your purpose for writing. Is it to entertain? To inform? To inspire? Don’t forget to put yourself in your readers’ place and think about the following:
What is the purpose of this writing?
What state of mind might readers be in when they approach my writing?
What key pieces of information do I want my readers to take away?
What do I want my readers to feel as they read this?
What impression do I want to make?
Once you’ve clarified your goals and understood how your readers are likely to interact with your piece, you’ll be approaching your writing in a more structured way. Write down key ideas that you know you want to cover. Use sub-headings to help you to organize your content, and ensure each idea is logically connecting to the next. Map out ways to supplement your core points by using things like quotations, examples, graphs, or case studies. When you’re sure you know how your piece is going to flow, fill in the map that you’ve just laid out.
2. De-clutter your sentences
Problem: Clichés, useless phrases, and redundant words. Almost everyone accidentally clutters their sentences occasionally. The key is to notice this in your own writing and eliminate it. When readers meet sentences that are filled with words that don’t add value, your message becomes murky and you miss an opportunity to make an impact.
Solution: Re-read your material and look for ways to trim the fat. Adopt a No Mercy policy. Clean writing helps your readers understand your points and communicates confidence.
Things to eliminate: sentences that sound like they’ve been recycled from elsewhere in the piece, hedging words (in a manner of speaking…for the most part…), overused phrases, redundant words (absolutely certain… postpone until later…) and over-hyped words (undeniably the best song…).
Before: The reason why Acme Communications is a very unique company is because during the course of our growth we always encourage our staff to make mistakes.
The reason why Acme Communications is a very unique company is because during the course of our growth we always encourage our staff to make mistakes.
After: Acme Communications is a unique company because we encourage our staff to make mistakes.
3. Encourage scanning
Problem: Large blocks of uninterrupted text. Nothing is as unfriendly to a reader seeking information as a dense page of black and white text. The more ‘block-like’ your writing is, the more likely it will be ignored, especially on the internet or in emails, which people are used to skimming.
Solution: Make information more digestible by encouraging scanning and multiple points of entry to your writing. By breaking up content and highlighting certain areas of text you can encourage better engagement from readers. You readers might be in a rush, or doing multiple things at once, so help them get to the point quickly. You can encourage this by using:
headings and sub-headings
bulleted or numbered lists
bolded or italicized words
coloured words or headings
graphs or illustrations
These organizational methods really help to make a piece of writing friendly and accessible to your readers.