Extreme Writing Makeover

Good writing boils down to some basics. When I spoke to the Cooperative Communicators Association recently, I shared my “Top 10Tips to Communicate More Effectively,” which include:

1.   Communicate a clear theme. I like Kurt Vonnegut’s rule of thumb: if you can’t explain your idea to a 12-year-old in a few sentences, you don’t really understand it yourself. Invest the time to clarify what you want to say. Good writing crystalizes your thinking.

2.   Spend 95 cents of your dollar on the title and the lead. Look for ways to surprise or intrigue the reader. E.g. Woman Finds Shoe in Lake — with BodyAttached

3.   Use the 10% solution. Most of the time, fewer words mean more power. This pays off in articles, advertisements, social media posts, and more. Eliminate “very.” Avoid “ly” words e.g. “He walked slowly into the room” or “He shuffled into the room.”

4.   “Said” is good. Don’t be afraid to use it—it’s meant to be invisible and not break the flow of the writing. Don’t feel pressured to add more creativity by coming up with words like “exclaimed,” “gushed,” etc.

5.   Aim for active voice, not passive voice. Passive is dull and will cripple your writing. Active voice involves readers’ senses more directly and pulls them in.“The contract was signed by John” is as accurate as “John signed the contract,” but the second version is clearer and reads faster.

6.   Avoid wishy-washy words. Beware of using “very,” “nice,” and other non-descriptive words. Deepen the adjectives to convey your message more precisely.

7.   Use simple words when possible. Skip the jargon, and use simpler words for clear communication. “Ion” often occurs as the last syllable in long words that may not be the best word for the situation. For example, replace “intoxication” with “drunk,” and “rationalization” with “excuse.”

8.   Incorporate rhythm into your writing. Mix up short and long sentences. For example: “The farmers of Prince Edward Island are starting to plant soybeans. Lots of soybeans.”

9.  Cut adverbs and add action verbs. Adverbs are rarely the most accurate word to express what you want to say. Powerful action verbs propel the reader through your story. Instead of “she spoke loudly,” try “she shouted” or “she bellowed.”

10.  Localize and personalize your writing. Instead of speaking in generalities, good writing portrays a specific place and puts facts in context. Include relevant details that help tell the story.

Finally, remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It is not enough to write so you can be understood. You must write so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood.”

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