How to Write Better — Part 1
This will be a milestone year for me for two reasons: I’ll be celebrating a 0 birthday and the 15th anniversary of being a freelance writer/editor. While I’m not too excited about the former, I’m really proud of the latter, but perhaps not for the reason you might think. Sure, it’s been wonderful to earn a living doing something I’m passionate about, but I’m equally stoked at how my work has helped people become better writers.
To start 2019, I’m happy to present 10 ways for you to write better — five in this issue and five more in February. Keep these things in mind to ensure everything you write accurately reflects your professionalism.
- Get organized. Poor organization is the #1 problem in business writing. Before you write, plan what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. You don’t want readers wading through unorganized copy; it’s your job to smooth their way.
- Know your audience. Written communication is most effective when it’s targeted and personal. Be sure your tone and content are appropriate for your audience.
- Avoid using corporate or industry jargon. No one wants to read copy that’s full of clichés. You may want to research lists of tired business terminology to avoid.
- Use active voice. Express action in a direct fashion, so your writing is more vigorous. Your sentence subject should be clear; don’t make readers search for it or bury it at the end.*
- Avoid lengthy sentences and words. Short sentences are much easier to grasp than those that are long and contain multiple clauses. You win no awards for length; in fact, you may lose readers if they feel it takes too long to wade through your words.
*Need an example? This is active voice: Baseball and hockey are my favorite sports. This is passive voice: My favorite sports are baseball and hockey. There’s a subtle but powerful difference.
Happy New Year! See you next month with five more ways to write better.
Dollar or $ — Not Both
Do you think it’s wrong to write $5 billion dollars? I do — but I see miscues like this all the time. When you use a dollar sign, the word dollar becomes redundant.
Words like full time and part time give some writers fits, because sometimes they’re hyphenated, and sometimes they’re not. Both of these uses are correct:
- I want a full-time job.
- I’m going to work full time.
In the first sentence, full-time is an adjective modifying job; in the second sentence, it’s a noun.