Does your writing let you down?
Instead of finding it a breeze to let your thoughts and feelings be expressed through words – perhaps you struggle to put your message across.
Don’t worry if this sounds like you. As you’re definitely not alone.
According to a recent study by the World Literacy Foundation, one in five U.K. adults are so poor at reading and writing that they struggle to read a medicine label or to write a cheque.
Fortunately, if you’ve read this far – then I know your literacy levels are good. And even if you writing is poor now, I’m going to show you some quick and easy techniques to transform it.
Let’s get started.
Over the last six years, I’ve worked for dozens of companies writing everything from blogs to press releases to social media posts.
However, thinking back to some of my early work, I can vividly recall the stress and tension of attempting to write new content. Sometimes I was so nervous putting the words together than I even had knots in my stomach.
What caused this?
A lack of confidence in my writing abilities.
While it took me many months to build my confidence, you can do this much quicker. The trick is to put yourself into the right mindset before sitting down in front of your keyboard and screen. By this, I mean that you should tell yourself that you’re a terrific writer – and then start to believe it.
It’s much like acting.
Competent actors can easily convince you that they are professional detectives, lawyers or even drug dealers!
You just need to convince yourself that you are a fantastic writer.
To accomplish this, make use of the power of suggestion and visualisation. This simply means regularly telling yourself that you have a genuine flair for writing, and picturing in your mind’s eye the positive results that keep coming in from your persuasive and effective communications.
If writing is currently a struggle for you, then I bet your ability to focus on putting words to paper (or screen) is way below par too.
To write well, you must have laser-like mental focus.
Distractions will kill your creativity and destroy the flow of your content. And if that isn’t bad enough – you’re likely to make lots more mistakes with your grammar and spelling.
So, how to stay focused?
Discover what works for you.
By this, I mean find out what environment is the most conducive to your creativity and writing. For me, I’m happy with background music or even the incessant chatter of a coffee shop. For you, however, you may work best in a quiet office or secluded room in your home.
Once you’ve worked out the ideal environment for you to write in, the next step is to cut down on any unnecessary online distractions. You know what I mean… checking your social media feeds, YouTubing or reading about the latest iPhone.
In my experience, the best writers are the most focused. Learn from their example, and keep your mind and eyes firmly on your content.
Know your audience
Best-selling international author Paullina Simons said:
“You have to keep your audience in your mind; if you’re writing stuff that you know nobody’s going to care about then you should rethink what you’re doing!”
Whether you’re sending a sales email to prospective clients, posting a comment on a blog, or even writing a 45-page project document – you must know who your audience is.
Let me explain.
When you chat with your friends on Messenger, you probably splash your content with emoticons and stickers, as well as writing in a super-informal and fun way. However, would you choose to write this way when sending in a cover letter for a job application? Of course you wouldn’t.
Now, while the example above is deliberately extreme, it’s vital that you know your audience before creating any written content. Typically, it’s good to know their likes, dislikes, age and gender at the very least. It’ll also be helpful to know why they might want to read your content.
I spend a lot of time editing other people’s writing. And the one issue that crops up time and time again is the length of content.
Namely, it’s too long!
Research shows that when an average sentence length is 43 words, readers understand less than 10% of what they’re reading. But when an average sentence length is 14 words, comprehension rises to more than 90%. (An impressive difference.)
So forget those long-winded sentences that helped you pass your degree course. Instead, keep your sentences short and punchy. That way, you’ll keep your readers happy and engaged.
It’s not just sentences that you need to keep short, though. I personally recommend that you keep your word choice as clear and concise as possible too. For instance, rather than saying: “Our company has evolved to match the requirements of our customers,” simply say: “We’ve grown to meet the needs of our customers.”
Poorly written content is usually just lacking a bit of editing, proofreading and tender loving care.
You may think this is common sense, but I frequently come across content that is littered with grammatical errors or lacks any kind of decent flow or structure.
Think of how shiny and clean your car looks after you’ve taken it to a car wash. It almost looks brand new again.
Proofreading can do the same for your writing. It can turn it from an incoherent mess, to a polished and effective message.
What are the best ways to proofread?
Well, I suggest reading through your content several times, with the purpose of spotting and fixing errors, improving content flow and adding relevant examples, etc. You should also make sure you run your content through one of the popular online proofreading tools such as Grammarly or WhiteSmoke, (You’ll be surprised by what these spot.)
In addition to the above, one of the best proofreading tips is to…
Read your words aloud
I learned this trick while working for U.S. breaking news site Inside.
My role at the time was to search the web and social media for the latest news from around the world, and then to summarise the most interesting stories in just a few sentences.
I was part of a small remote-working team, made up of a handful of writers and one editor. Typically, I worked four-hour shifts several times a week. Some of these shifts took place at the crack of dawn – others way after the sun had gone down!
As you can imagine, curating and writing content while half-asleep, was a recipe for disaster. It was not uncommon for the writers (including myself) to make grammatical or factual errors in their news summaries. Most times these errors were picked up by the editor – but occasionally they slipped through.
The CEO of Inside hated these errors, and correctly pointed out that they made our news summaries and the entire site look unprofessional. His advice to us? Read everything out aloud before sending for publication.
What a difference this made. I would say errors reaching the editor were less than half of what they had been. And all because the writers had spent a moment to read their content out aloud.
I strongly recommend you use this technique for all your important content. You’ll be amazed by how many errors you failed to see – but could clearly hear.
Oh, and if you work in an office and don’t want to read your content out aloud, just read and speak it in your mind. Trust me, it still works.
Practice makes perfect
In the headline for this article, I promised that you could improve your writing by 97%. And I wasn’t joking.
Simply put my tips above into practice, and watch your written communications skills rapidly improve.
And before long you’ll be able to agree with Isaac Asimov, who famously said: “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”