As a writer, it’s crucial that you do everything in your power to reduce the chances that your readers will misunderstand your words—otherwise, what’s the point of writing something for public consumption? One way to do this is to ensure that you actually understand the meanings of the words and phrases you use. Certain words and phrases are misused so commonly today that we’re often shocked to learn what their actual meanings are. Oft-misused words include the following:
- Stop overthinking.
- Jot down one idea at a time.
- Write a little bit every day.
- Read something interesting if you’re feeling stuck.
- Make notes in your phone.
- Keep a pen and pad of paper with you when you’re away from your computer.
- Transfer your notes to your computer regularly.
- Pause conversations to capture interesting anecdotes.
- Add interesting anecdotes to conversations.
- Monitor how people react.
- Research fascinating topics.
- Brainstorm the best way to approach a topic.
- Look for fresh angles.
- Listen to a podcast related to your topic.
- Watch a video related to your topic.
- Discover the time of day when you’re most creative.
- Schedule time to write at your desk.
- Clean your desk.
- Know your audience.
- Practice choosing the right words.
- Outline your main points.
- Experiment with how you structure your writing.
- Draft many headlines.
- Craft intriguing subheadlines.
- Use effective bullet points.
- Study other authors.
- Create a messy draft.
- Take a break before you edit.
- Refine your messy draft.
- Edit with your ideal reader in mind.
- Choose simple language.
- Clarify any confusing phrases.
- Keep your explanations concise.
- Go into more detail only when it’s necessary.
- Entertain your reader.
- Share an unpopular opinion.
- Inspire new ideas.
- Transform written articles into other forms of content.
- Prompt your reader to take notes on your content.
- Motivate your reader to share your content.
Jump in (it’s all free) and let us take you straight to the good stuff:
- Original: “This psychology textbook is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read, which is unnerving because I don’t usually struggle to understand concepts from psychology, nor do I typically miscomprehend material that other students grasp with ease.”
- Reconstruction: “This psychology textbook is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read. Never before have I struggled to understand concepts from psychology. Plus, I typically don’t miscomprehend material that other students grasp with ease. I find the whole situation to be unnerving.”
- Original: “People who self-identify as belonging to the Right often argue on behalf of the free market and against big government, claiming bloated governments are dangerous because they’re ineffective and costly, whereas people who self-identify as belonging to the Left often argue on behalf of government regulation and against the free reign of the free market, insisting that allowing corporations to govern their own activities has never been shown to work.”
- Reconstruction: “People who self-identify as belonging to the Right often argue on behalf of the free market and against big government. Folks on the Right claim bloated governments are dangerous because the latter are ineffective and costly. Conversely, people who self-identify as belonging to the Left often argue on behalf of government regulation and against the free reign of the free market. Individuals on the Left insist that allowing corporations to govern their own activities has never been shown to work.”
Unless you’re explicitly referring to events or processes that occur in different periods of time, there’s usually no good reason to switch back and forth between different tenses within a given sentence (or, in some cases, within a given paragraph or even within an entire story). Alternating between different tenses—past, present, future, and each of their variations—can confuse your reader and lead to a frustrating reading experience.
One of the quickest ways you can improve the clarity of your writing is by paying more attention to your use of tenses and ensuring you don’t unjustifiably switch between tenses. If you’re writing about something that occurred in the past, use the past tense throughout the discussion; the same goes for something occurring in the present and for something that will or may happen in the future.
Remember Done Is Better than Perfect
No piece of writing will ever be perfect – you have to know when it’s time to let it go. This is especially important in content marketing, because you’ll rarely (if ever) have the luxury of crafting agonizingly beautiful blog posts full of poignant sentences and evocative imagery. As you become more confident, the “writing” part of writing will become easier and faster, but never lose sight of the fact that deadlines, or editorial calendars, are just as much your masters as any boss or manager.
Summary: How to Improve Your Writing Skills
- Brush up on the basic principles of writing, grammar and spelling.
- Write like it’s your job and practice regularly.
- Read more so you develop an eye for what effective writing looks like.
- Find a partner. Ask them to read your writing and provide feedback.
- Join a workshop, meetup, or take a writing night class.
- Take the time to analyze writing you admire.
- Imitate writers you admire.
- Outline your writing.
- Edit your writing.
- Accept that first drafts are often bad and revise.
- Find an editor who demonstrates patience.
- Eliminate unnecessary words from your writing.
- Review your earlier work and see how you’ve grown.
- Don’t be afraid to say what you mean in what you write.
- Make sure you do adequate research on your topic.
- Don’t delay writing. Get it done now.
Meet The Author
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
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