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5 easy ways to become a better writer

The secret to good writing? Good editing. No one gets it right the first time. But if you know what to look out for when editing your own work, you’ll be able to transform your copy from vague to vivacious. Here are five quick tips.

The great Ernest Hemingway would write standing up... you can sit down though

1. Remove ‘that’

The decision that we are faced with… It made me realise that my earnings were sufficient… Taking into account new information that I have collected…

If I had a biscuit for every time I removed an unnecessary ‘that’ from a sentence, I’d be the CEO of McVities. This is a writing tic affecting most people. But it’s the easiest thing in the world to correct. Keep your eyes peeled for the T-word.

2. Cut unnecessary words and phrases

Due to the fact that… Be that as it may… For the most part… In a very real sense… It goes without saying… Of course… What I mean to say is…

Inexperienced writers (and everyone, really) often feel the need to ‘elevate’ their writing by using long words and abstract language. But good writing is plain, clear and simple. Look out for these common phrases, and cut them.

3. Use active language

Passive: A freelancer was used to complete the project. Active: We used a freelancer to complete the project.

Passive language disconnects the action from the actor, making statements vague and non-specific. Things just happen: no one is responsible. That makes writing sound a bit remote. Active language is shorter, more direct and involves the reader more.

4. Stay positive

Negative: Our food isn’t made off-site, avoiding the risk of stale sandwiches Positive: All our food is made while you wait, meaning it’s fresh every time

Positivity illustrated by the humble pint

The subconscious doesn’t distinguish between the negative and the positive. So if you mention something negative, there’s a risk it will become associated with your brand. So, the next time you find yourself pointing out a downside, stop. Reframe it as a positive.

5. Be definite, specific and visual – and avoid the abstract

When they set out, Microsoft nearly had a mission statement along the lines of ‘Working towards the global adoption of information technology’. But they realised this was about as motivating as a damp biscuit, and found something a little easier to visualise: ‘A computer on every desk and in every home’.

Their current mission statement, unveiled in 2013, is ‘To create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most’. Oh well.

For messages with impact, keep it concrete.


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