If you’re reading this, it’s a fair bet that you can write as well. Writing, though, isn’t necessarily the same as writing well. Like any skill, it has to be learnt, practiced and improved, but I have a few simple tips here that can help anyone write more effectively.
1.Think about who you’re writing for and what kind of language is appropriate for them. Most of us do this instinctively when we’re speaking – we wouldn’t ask for a loan from the bank manager in the same way that we’d talk to our friends at the pub – and it’s even more important to plan this in writing, when we don’t have visual cues.
2.Plan what you want to say. Make a list of the points you need to address, and check it when you’ve finished writing to see if you’ve covered them all.
3.Ignore points 4-8 when writing your first draft – the important thing at that stage is to get your thoughts down. The first draft is to get it wrong; the second draft is to get it right; the third draft is to get it perfect.
4.Avoid using long, complex sentences. They can be effective if done well, but it’s very easy for the reader to lose the thread. Try to vary sentence-length, but use short as your default.
5.Avoid too much repetition, both of individual words and of sentences with similar phrasing. Of course, repetition can work well if it’s used deliberately for effect – as anyone knows who’s ever read books to very young children – but not usually when it’s accidental.
6.Don’t think you have to use “clever” words. Most of the time, everyday words are more effective – keep the less normal vocabulary for when no other word will get over your exact meaning.
7.Learn the basic rules of grammar, rather than relying on grammar-checkers (they’re mostly unreliable). Grammar isn’t scary, it’s just there to help you make your meaning clear.
8.On the other hand, don’t get too hung up on grammatical rules, especially anything stated too dogmatically. “Rules” like not splitting infinitives (e.g. “to boldly go”) or not ending a sentence with a preposition (e.g. “What are you here for?”) aren’t genuine rules. If it feels natural, it’s probably all right.
9.Check your spelling manually with a dictionary (physical or virtual) rather than relying on a spellchecker. It’s a useful tool, but it can’t tell you if the word you’ve used is the right one, only that it exists.
10.If possible, get someone – ideally someone who knows nothing about your topic – to read your piece and tell you whether anything’s unclear.
11.Before you decide you’ve finished, read your piece aloud – or, even better, record it and play it back. Writing and speaking aren’t the same, but they’re more similar than people often think. If what you’ve written sounds stilted, or if it’s awkward to speak aloud, the chances are it will come over the same to your readers.
Of course, as everyone knows, the perfect answer is to hire a copywriter. If you want to do it yourself, though, these points should help you to get your meaning over effectively.