3 tips to improve your writing

Not everyone is a naturally gifted writer. But it doesn't take a degree in English to improve your writing and enhance your communication. Whether you are writing to investors or your in-laws, the following tips will help you communicate clearly and sound like a pro.

1.    Use active voice

Quick grammar lesson: Active voice is a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. Passive voice (the other option) is when the subject is acted upon by the verb. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Let’s look at an example:

Passive voice: The exam was failed by over one-third of the class.

Active voice: Over one-third of the class failed the exam.

In active voice, the subject comes before the verb. This helps ensure that sentences are clear and concise because the reader knows who is doing something before they know what they are doing. An added bonus, active voice requires fewer words to describe what is happening than passive voice.

2.    Avoid long, complicated sentences

There is a time and a place for compound and complex-compound sentences. However, the longer your sentence becomes the harder it will be for your reader to understand. The below sentence from Faulkner’s “That Evening Sun” is a prime example:

The streets are paved now, and the telephone and electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees–the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms–to make room for iron poles bearing clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes, and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds on Monday morning, gathering the bundles of clothes into bright-colored, specially-made motor cars: the soiled wearing of a whole week now flees apparitionlike behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminishing noise of rubber and asphalt like tearing silk, and even the Negro women who still take in white people’s washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.

At what point in the above sentence did you have to start over and read it again? For me, it was the word clusters – 38 words into a 118-word sentence.

Keeping sentences short and to the point will help increase understanding and avoid confusion. As a rule of thumb, a sentence should be less than four lines of text on a typical word processor (around 40 words). Remember: Simple sentences are not unintelligent. Confusing sentences are.

3.    Don’t use two words where one would do

There is a tendency from amateur writers to add unnecessary words to a sentence to sound more intelligent. However, it tends to have the opposite effect. A prime example of this is using multiple words where one will do.

For example, writing “in a timely manner” when “quickly” will work. Both phrases mean the same thing, but one more concisely communicates the point. Doing this is also a sign of a large vocabulary, which is what will really make you look intelligent.

The best way to cut words from a sentence is to write it how you normally would, then reread it and identify areas that can be condensed. Getting your thoughts on paper is often the hardest part, but a few minutes of editing can make a world of difference.

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