The ability to write well, like any other talent, comes by practice and persistence. It won’t happen overnight, but over time as you write often and gain experience, you will begin to see your writing mature and improve. Then, upon comparing your earlier work with your most recent efforts, you will be pleasantly surprised by your improvement. As you work through the writing process, try the following tips.
1. Read and Write Often
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read. If you are serious about writing, read all the time, and read a wide range of authors and genres. But especially read the kinds of material that you want to write, the genre you want to write in, and so forth. Imitate what other authors do that you find particularly effective or powerful. If you want to be the next great science fiction writer, read Carl Sagan or George Orwell, and try to emulate in your writing what they do that you find particularly effective. When you come across writing that isn’t done very well, analyze it and determine why it isn’t effective, and learn how to make your writing better through that process, as well.
Reading is a perfect way to start learning to write well, but the best way to learn how to write is to write. If you want to become a great writer, then write as often as you can. As you write, again, write in the style and genre that you prefer, but also be versatile; try your hand at writing on a variety of subjects or in a variety of genres. You may be surprised to find that you’re actually better suited to a different style or genre than you thought!
2. Write with Enthusiasm and Emotion
Write because you love writing or because you love the topic (or ideally, both). If you don’t demonstrate your interest for the topic you are discussing through your writing, your readers aren’t likely to be enthusiastic about what you have written, either. Even if you aren’t writing about the most exciting subject out there, you can still make your writing interesting by genuinely conveying your own appreciation for the subject. You can also spice up your writing through examples, anecdotes, metaphors, personal experiences, and by making the information applicable to the everyday life of ordinary readers.
3. Write with a Purpose
Have in mind what you want to accomplish as you write, and then work toward that end. It’s okay if you change your mind in the process of writing, but always have some guiding principle.
4. Get Your Ideas Down on Paper
When you have a specific topic that you want to write about, begin to jot down your ideas. You can do this using a general outline, a thought map or idea clouds, or by using another method that you prefer. The important thing is to get your ideas down on paper. When you have come up with a concrete idea and some supporting points or a rough plot summary, write a more detailed outline that states your purpose or the skeleton of your story and that will guide your writing efforts. Then write a draft, not worrying overmuch about grammar or spelling. You will revise and proofread later. And, as mentioned above, don’t worry if your purpose, or even your topic, changes as you write. Someone once told me that he often had to write in order to find out what he truly thought about a subject, rather than to simply convey what he already knew. So keep an open mind—don’t needlessly lock yourself into any predetermined ideas or conclusions—and just see what you come up with.
After you’ve been at it for a while, take a break if you need to; you’ll come back with new ideas and maybe even a fresh perspective. It’s amazing what the subconscious mind can do while you’re not even working on your writing at all; your subconscious is still churning away with ideas and putting thoughts together.
5. Write to Your Audience
Always keep your audience in mind, and write for your audience. For instance, think about the age, gender, ethnicity, background, occupation, and so forth of your target audience. What are they interested in? What is important to them? Think about their wants, needs, values, and concerns, and decide what your writing can do to meet their needs or resolve their concerns.
As you write, be leery of using jargon (that is, technical or highly specialized terminology) or other overly specific verbiage in your writing. Even when writing to a particular audience, it is generally wise to avoid jargon in most cases, as it may distance less knowledgeable readers. Though it may be appropriate to use it in rare cases when writing to people within a specific field, such terminology is too inclusive to be broadly applicable for a general audience.
6. Write What You Know
With the advent of the Internet, anyone can publish virtually anything. The Internet is a wonderful tool that brings an enormous wealth of information to our fingertips, but there is also a great risk of misinformation because it is so easy to publish information without verifying that it is up to date and accurate. Demonstrating credibility has always been essential when writing, and it is even more so now, no matter what medium you use to do it. Readers have to believe that you know what you are talking about if you want them to take what you have written seriously. Moreover, it is easier to write effectively and well when you have a solid knowledge of the topic and are therefore confident in sharing what you know with others.
On the other hand, writing is also a wonderful way to acquire new information. If there is something you want to know more about, research the topic, and then write about it. Through the process of researching, digesting the information, analyzing it, writing what you have learned, and then revising your writing, there’s a good chance you will come to understand the topic fairly well and that you will retain what you have learned.
7. Write with Style
When you write, allow your personality to show. For most kinds of writing, you can bring your own flare to your work, and your writing will be much more interesting if you imbue it with your own personal style of writing. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to try new styles. Doing so keeps your writing fresh and original. Don’t worry about messing up; take honest criticism, and keep working to become better. Most of all, keep writing.
8. Write Concisely
Everyone has limited time, so, as a general rule, keep your writing short and simple. Peruse your documents and strive to reduce sentences to phrases and phrases to words. Furthermore, replace long words with short words when the short word will work just as well as the long one. For example, change in the event that to if, utilize to use, and so forth. If the meaning will remain the same without the paragraph, sentence, or phrase, delete it entirely. Also delete words that aren’t necessary (filler words). Favor strong nouns and verbs over adjectives and adverbs, and try to eliminate meek modifiers such as really, very, truly, and the like.
Heed this advice from William Strunk Jr.: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
Revise, revise, revise. Most good writers acknowledge that they spend far more time rewriting and revising than they do writing the original draft of a document. One of the great advantages of writing is that you can change what you have written as often as you like until you have it just the way you want it. To write well, give yourself the time you need to adequately revise your work.
As you read over your document, look for gaps in logic, places where organization can be improved to be more coherent or aesthetic, holes where further information should be added to make your document more complete, and superfluous or repetitious information that can be deleted. Check to make sure that your text supports, rather than undermines or contradicts, your purpose, thesis, or story. (For more information on this topic, see the article How to Revise Your Writing.)
10. Read Your Writing Out Loud
After you do the major revising of your document, it is a good idea to read it out loud. As you read, when you come across something that sounds awkward or stilted or when you stumble over a word or phrase, revise it.
11. Proofread Your Work
After reading over and revising your document, read over it one more time and check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mistakes. Though spell checkers and grammar checkers are helpful, don’t rely solely on these tools. Rather, take the time to actually read over your entire document; there are many things that spell checkers and grammar checkers miss.
It is also important to have someone else read over your work. Only after someone else reads over your document will you really know whether or not it is clear, well organized, cohesive, logical, interesting, and so forth.
Again, more than anything, writing well takes practice and experience. One final tip, though: As mentioned briefly above, when you start a writing project, make sure to give yourself the time you need to construct a meaningful, well-written document. Even the best writers are sloppy when they’re in a hurry. Giving yourself adequate time will help ensure that your writing is as good as possible.