Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing tips to help your message stand out

In school we learned general grammar rules and writing principles. For our essays we were taught to include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. For fiction we may have learned about character development, dialogue, and point of view. But teachers often neglected to delve into the mechanics of writing. Written communication is as important as ever and following a few simple rules will lead to a more concise, clear, and cohesive message.

These tips apply to all writing styles, from web content to business reporting (even emails) to fiction:

1) Use active rather than passive language

The meeting was being chaired (passive) by the marketing director. Instead write: The marketing director chaired (active) the meeting.

2) Use strong verbs rather than an adverb with a weak verb

When she realized she was late for the meeting, she ran quickly to the boardroom. Instead write: When she realized she was late for the meeting, she bolted to the boardroom.

3) Use one strong adjective rather than two adjectives with similar meanings

The shy and quiet trainee gave an interesting and thoughtful presentation. Instead write: The introverted trainee gave a compelling presentation.

4) Avoid unnecessary repetition

Don’t hit the reader on the head with your point.

Times are tough; we are all reeling from this economic slump. If only we weren’t in this crippling recession we’d be able to hire more people.

5) Use simple, straightforward language

The best way to lose your reader is to over-complicate the message:

Due to unforeseen budgetary circumstances, ABC Ltd. will not have the resources to continue implementing the advertising schedule, which was previously determined by the communications committee (too wordy).

Instead write: Due to budgetary constraints, ABC Ltd. has revised its advertising schedule. (simple and to the point)

6) Vary your sentence structure (and rhythm)

I had my performance review. My boss said I was brilliant. He gave me a raise and a promotion. I celebrated with my friends (monotonous).

Instead write: At my performance review, my boss said I was brilliant. I celebrated my raise and my promotion with my friends.

7) Don’t use clichés; they give the impression that the writer has no imagination.

The sales team gave their competitors a run for their money in landing the account, and the effort paid off in spades.

Instead you could write: The sales team competed vigorously to land the account and the effort was well rewarded.


  1. These are all great reminders of how we can improve our writing. I especially love the Calvin and Hobbes illustration!

  2. These are useful tips; they resonate with other writing advice I've been reading recently. Thanks.