How to be an Effective Writer

When you compare your writing to that of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, or Maya Angelou, it’s easy to get discouraged. The thing is, you don’t have to be a prolific writer to be an effective one. 

It is possible that you’ve already taken steps towards becoming an effective writer. After all, we all practice writing every day. We write emails, instant messages, Tweets, LinkedIn posts, and more. 

Why be a better writer? Making your writing more effective can translate to success at work, empathetic communication at home, and stronger interpersonal relationships overall. This article describes what makes an effective writer, and offers 9 steps to improve anyone’s writing.

What are the qualities of an effective writer?

An effective writer conveys complex ideas convincingly and clearly. He or she writes without grammatical errors and is deeply familiar with the reader’s needs and experience level. Effective writers take the time to tailor their writing according to their audience, including the most relevant research and presenting compelling points in a clear manner.

It’s no surprise that your favorite author has all these characteristics, but what about your favorite manager? If you think about it, you’ll probably find that he or she checks these boxes, too. Being an effective writer can have a big impact on your success in the modern workplace. 

How to improve your writing skills

Becoming an effective writer is easier said than done. Below, we offer 9 tips to enhance your written communication.

1. Thinking

Before you put pen to paper, it’s important to think about what your goal is. Ask yourself why you are writing this content and what you want readers to do as a result of reading it. Are you trying to convince someone to buy something? Do you want to evoke a specific feeling? Are you simply informing readers?

Once you’re clear on the purpose of your content, think about your audience. Is your audience technical? If so, they might expect you to dive into a complex concept right away. On the other hand, writing for a more mainstream audience requires simpler language, less detail, and a slower introduction to any complicated topics. Thinking through the best way to convey your key ideas will prepare you to write a cogent piece.

Lastly, think about your core argument. Many articles and essays fail to present a consistent thesis, which leaves readers confused or bored. To make your main point, you must lead up to it in a structured, logical way, and continue to reference it throughout your piece. It helps to understand each component of a valid argument. Before diving into writing, think about how to lead up to your argument in a way that your audience will respond to best.

2. Add structure

We often write as we talk. While that might be fine for a casual conversation, it’s likely not appropriate in a more professional setting. Many of us tend to ramble when we speak. Without a logical flow, readers are lost and eventually lose interest. Outlines give pieces much-needed structure so your readers don’t lose interest.

To gather your thoughts and create an outline, try doodling, developing mind maps, or writing short phrases in bullet points. Transfer everything from your head to the page. Different thoughts will relate to each other or make you think of something else, and your main argument will slowly take shape. Review what you’ve written and see if you can write out your thesis statement.

From there, rearrange and organize your thoughts. Does the order make sense? Could any sections be flipped around to make the content more digestible? Do you have enough evidence or anecdotes to back up your claims? Note where you lack research or substance and find sources that can help you prove your point. That said, don’t be afraid to nix sections altogether.

Examine the body paragraphs (the meat of your essay or paper) next. Do they all align with and support your thesis? Once they all make sense together, brainstorm a few interesting ways you can introduce the topic of your article and how you can conclude your piece on a note that makes readers think. Overall, your outline should be a rough plan for how you’ll introduce, support, and conclude your piece. 

3. Write your first draft

Once you have a solid outline, write your first draft. This sounds daunting, but the first draft doesn’t have to be good. In fact, you should try to complete your first draft in one go without worrying about making it perfect. Anxiety around writing only dampens your creativity and stalls your process. Start by turning phrases in your outline into full sentences. As you get going, you’ll find that more ideas come to mind, and your writing will begin to flow naturally. It’s ok if you have some run-on sentences, grammatical errors, or tangential points. Remember, you can always pare down and edit later.

4. Clean up your writing

We often use cliches and other catchphrases to clarify our ideas, but superfluous words detract from our writing and make us seem unsure of our ideas. During the editing process, use the find and replace feature of your text editor to make sure phrases aren’t used more than once. Cut long paragraphs and sentences in half. Remove unnecessary words.

Then, remove excessive verbiage and contemplate eliminating adverbs. In the Elements of Style (authored by Strunk and White), the authors suggest working with nouns and verbs一not with adjectives and adverbs. Replace boring, non-descriptive words like “very pretty” with stronger ones like “gorgeous”. Discard qualifiers as well. Words such as “maybe,” “like,” and “sort of,” aren’t clear and certainly don’t make your writing sound confident. Lastly, remove any extraneous words. For instance, Strunk and White suggest writing “He” as opposed to “He is a man who.”  

5. Avoid jargon and difficult words

A rich vocabulary is a fantastic writing tool. Interesting words add variety to your writing and keep people’s attention. That said, dropping fancy words into every sentence is not impressive. It adds unnecessary complexity to your writing and is a telltale sign of a mediocre writer. Stick to simple, straightforward language.

6. Read what you write

It may sound silly, but reading your work aloud immediately surfaces clumsy, awkward phrases. This trick also exposes any sections you can remove. Pretending as if you are the reader helps you edit and reinforces what to do and what not to do. For a more casual piece, try recording yourself speaking, listen back to it, and transcribe it. After excluding “like” and “um” and streamline your thought process, you’ll be left with a realistic, conversational article. 

If you’re writing on a computer, one last tip is to print out of your writing. Read it with a pencil in hand so you can take notes to make it better. As odd as it sounds, some people find more mistakes or confusing text when reading from a physical piece of paper.

7. Practice

We are all familiar with the phrase “practice makes perfect,” and it certainly applies to writing. Just like any other skill, becoming a good writer takes practice, practice, and more practice. Write as frequently as possible, and proofread what you write. You’d be surprised how consistently you make the same mistakes. Strengthening your writing is much easier once you’re aware of your flaws. Do you tend to verb tenses? Do you have favorite words you use over and over? Do your sentences all sound the same? With enough practice, you’ll be able to avoid common pitfalls before you even ask for feedback.

8. Rewrite

As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” This may sound counterintuitive, but many notable writers say that rewriting is a crucial step in their writing process. Taking breaks can help you get into the habit of rewriting. Stepping away from your computer for a few hours can make a world of difference. When you come back, you’ll see so many glaring errors. 

9. Get feedback

Showing your writing to someone you admire is so hard to do, but it is non-negotiable. When seeking feedback, choose people who know what they’re talking about. Ask them to highlight areas that are unclear, poorly worded, or weak. Ask for their suggestions on how to make your draft better and interesting. Accept their honest feedback as a precious gift. After all, your reviewers are allowing you to get in some rewrites before sharing a final version with your harshest critic. 

10. Use literary devices

Literary devices can be a wonderful addition to your writing. Metaphors and similes can help you draw comparisons between two different things. Symbolism and allegory are popular when trying to elucidate abstract ideas. Themes and motifs carry your main points throughout your piece, and imagery can paint a distinct picture for the reader. Each of these tools can elevate your writing to the next level.

For instance, you can use a literary device called “anaphora” for emphasis. When using anaphora, you repeat a sequence of words in neighboring clauses. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is a wonderful example of anaphora. The phrase “I have a dream” is repeated to engage the reader/listener and to draw attention to Dr. King’s main points. 

11. Read a lot

Great writers are great readers. They consume all types of content. Exposure to different writing styles can inspire writers and encourage them to develop their own voice and writing style. You can create something totally unique by paying attention to how fantastic authors write.

How to put what you’ve learned into practice

Not a day goes by where you don’t write in your job. In a digital world, everyone has to write at some point, and the most effective writers are ahead of the game. They persuade potential customers to buy something, convince people to sign petitions, give their teams the confidence boosts they need and make learning experiences memorable. With deep thinking, structure, feedback, and numerous rewrites, you too can be an effective writer.

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