1. Be Interesting
If you’re looking for ways to improve writing quality, we have compiled a few.
Your reader shouldn’t fall asleep.
Either learn to use words well, or learn to tell a story. At best, you will learn to do both. If you have trouble with writing enough, don’t worry about it. Readers seem to really like short material.
If you want to write more, tell the story. Underline your facts by adding in examples. If you’re a fiction writer, consider going back and expanding on a single area that you cut a little short.
If you’re writing for business, research is king. Give examples from your research. Facts are interesting. Facts that are quirky, startling or writings that relate to money seem to stir a particular interest. Use graphics. A picture not only literally illustrates for your reader, it can often clarify and more importantly, grab the eye.
Be brief. One of my high school teachers used to say that our papers should be like a skirt. Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting. Learn how to cut your writing by removing things that don’t help. Watch “A River Runs Through It” if you have not. 🙂 If you have seen it, then you may remember the “cut it in half” advice the father gives to his son each time he wants to improve writing. Cutting it in half might be a little drastic, but you can certainly make it concise if your situation calls for it. Search engines and readers can actually prefer shorter items. Google seems to like articles in the 300 to 400-word range.
2. Know your content; maintain its integrity
If you know how to research, awesome. If you don’t, here are a few key things to keep in mind.
- Make sure what you’re saying is true or accurate. Be prepared to explain why.
- A primary source is worth a dozen secondary sources. A primary source is often a book, person or study. Wikipedia is a secondary source. The stuff listed at the bottom of the Wikipedia page as footnotes is usually the primary source.
- Unless you are THE expert on a subject, you really should research. 🙂
3. Outline Outline Outline to Improve writing
If you’re going to write, you may benefit greatly from a roadmap. All of us cannot Kerouac our way through it. There are several outlining techniques. I use a sort of spidey mind map approach. I draw a circle in the center of the paper with my central idea. I then branch off from there with lines for each heading. Those branch off to subheadings. It’s a non-linear approach that works for my ADHD brain. You may prefer the traditional outline we learned in high school.
4. Be Consistent to Improve writing
Using a style grid is quick and easy. A style grid helps you remember certain things. To create a style grid, all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil.
To use a style guide, simply write in the first thought that comes to mind that you need to be consistent about. Or write in a certain spelling of a word that you are using. A great example is “web site.” There is a preferred method of spelling the compound word, but the world seems to accept either website or web site. Whichever way you choose, write it in under “W” on the style sheet. It will help you.
5. Headlines matter
The headline and first few lines are what help a reader decide if they’re going to read the next section. Headlines are important in SEO (search engine optimization) weighting. With as many new writings as there are each day, a title and subheading tell a reader whether or not they’ll skip your newest piece. In fiction writing, good chapter headings can set the mood for the entire chapter. Using a pull-quote for a chapter or short story can tweak just the right spot in your dear reader’s head. In business writings, executives will often just read your bold type or headlines.
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6. Think about the reader
Where will your reader be when they read your piece? What kind of mood will they be in? Why are they reading it? What do they hope to gain? In short, really think about your reader. It will help you. I believe all writing is persuasive writing at its core. Fiction writers are trying to persuade you away from reality. Business writers are trying to persuade you to an action. Bloggers are trying to persuade you they have something worth 3 minutes of your time.
7. Know your voice; know your situation
Voice is essentially how your reader will hear you. Shakespeare and many other poets use meter to help create a voice in the reader’s head. Voice can be way you interact with your reader. For example, consider “you and me” voice or a “third party observer” voice. Stay consistent.
Your situation is the where, why and how of the reader’s point of view. It can help determine your voice. For example, are you writing from a position of power, equality, anger, begging, asking for a favor or something else?
If you are writing a court brief, it calls for a different voice than a parenting blog. The situation is different. Business writers need to be adherent to the rules of business writing. There seems to be an exceptional forgiveness in business writing for rules, if your subject matter benefits the reader. Voice is more important than the rules in this situation. Technical writers will use a different voice when writing a manual, instructions, a government contract or a grant application. For a fiction writer, your voice and situation could change throughout each scene or it could be consistent for 90 pages.
8. Grammar actually matters
Grammar matters, but stick to your voice. In certain situations, I think it’s better to break a rule than break from your voice. Take that last sentence, for example. I tend to also use commas like in music, as a breath/pause mark. Sometimes I get it wrong. But if my reader reads anything like me, a comma makes a quick pause and can help guide your reader through a sentence, and that will improve writing. I do try to stick to comma rules as much as possible, and I do know them. Or I can at least say I often know if I’ve broken a comma rule.
Rules have changed a lot. There are countless blogs that a Google search will uncover that tell all about recent changes. Some things to note are ways to spell new words, changes in lay and lie usage, the oxford comma and made up words that become real because of usage.
Pick a style guide and learn to use it
You don’t have to be a grammar nazi, but learn where commas go most of the time. Learn the difference in commonly confused words. Learn where the period goes with regards to quotation marks. If you’re breaking a rule, have a reason. And yes, in some types of writing, rules don’t matter as much. In other types of writing, say for example, writing a paper for a professor, breaking too many grammar rules can earn you a low grade. If you are writing in hopes of being published, too many mistakes can make you a pain in your editor’s backside. I’m a Chicago Manual guy.
Use an editor
Everyone can benefit from an editor or proofreader. A second set of eyes can help point out simple mistakes you would have fixed had you noticed them. It can help point out when you’re confusing. It’s your job as a writer to convey the idea. I don’t spell well. Spellcheck is my very first proofreader. If you are writing for a language that you are not fluent in, you should always use an editor if you want to be grammatically correct and as clear as possible.
9. Please use spellchcek and proofread
When you write and have your reader in mind, you don’t want to break their concentration. Things slip through. Some professional proofreaders will recommend reading your piece backwards. A good read through top to bottom will uncover many things you might have missed.
Read your piece aloud. You’ll hear the voice of the piece and stumbling blocks of words will stand out. Consider tape recording yourself and playing it back for an even better insight into how your piece really sounds. Reading aloud will help ensure your piece has a certain flow that makes you happy with it.