No matter how skilled and competent we are at writing, there is always room for improvement. Below I have included ten ways to become a better writer. While many of you may already adhere to most of these, you might find some of them helpful.
1) Practice, practice, practice. As with any other discipline, the more one practices writing, the better of a writer he or she will become. I can see a marked difference between the quality of the articles I write now and that of the pieces I wrote four years ago. While practice rarely makes perfect (contrary to the old proverb), it almost always leads to steady improvement.
2) Avoid unnecessary repetition. Too much of it makes a writer seem amateurish and pedestrian. To keep away from repeating key words any more than is absolutely required, use an online thesaurus to find synonyms for them. For example, don’t keep repeating the word “necessary.” That word has plenty of synonyms like required, needed, requisite, essential, compulsory, obligatory, crucial, etc. Make good use of them.
In addition, don’t repeat people’s first names throughout an article. Except when required for disambiguation (i.e., when your article includes two or more persons with the same surname), include a person’s first name only on your article’s your first mention of him or her. All subsequent references to that person should be limited to his or her title and surname (ex., Mr. Smith), or just the surname (ex., Smith).
3) Read newspapers on a daily basis, especially the editorial sections. Read the letters to the editor, but give special attention to pieces authored by prestigious, accomplished writers like George Will and William F. Buckley, Jr., and study their writing styles. Although Buckley is no longer with us, much of his work is still available for perusal on the Internet. And don’t just read the work of the people you like – also read the opinions of those with whom you disagree. You need perspective from all sides of any issue.
4) Listen to intelligent people when they speak. Tune in to what they have to say. Through osmosis, you might begin to speak and write like they do. What goes into your ears comes out of your mouth, and is hopefully reflected in your writing.
5) Use numerals in sentences only for values of 11 or greater. Spell out zero through ten. And never use a numeral of any kind at the beginning of a sentence. Exception: It is okay to use a numeral for any numeric value, if it is not part of a sentence. An example would be numbered items that are followed by a period or right parenthesis.
6) Don’t write about the same stuff all the time. Write about a broad cross-section of subjects. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as most people are interested in more than one thing.
7) Expand your vocabulary. Learn new words, become familiar with their usage, and then start using them. Use an online dictionary to aid in this process.
8) Use short paragraphs of no more than four sentences. As many have pointed out before, people just won’t read articles that include long paragraphs. Many readers find them intimidating and most of the remainder don’t have time to read them anyway.
9) Don’t ramble. William Shakespeare once said that “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Brevity is indeed a good thing in all forms of writing. Don’t use ten words to say something that could just as easily be said with five. The use of superfluous words will not make you seem any more intelligent.
10) Use commas and shorter sentences for clarity. Long sentences without commas are very difficult to follow and are easily misunderstood. Here’s an example:
“On my way to the doctor’s office I witnessed a traffic accident in which two people were injured I stopped my car got out and offered assistance you would have done the same thing right.”
Now here are the same words, but broken down into three sentences, and with some commas inserted:
“On my way to the doctor’s office, I witnessed a traffic accident in which two people were injured. I stopped my car, got out, and offered assistance. You would have done the same thing, right?”
Now, isn’t the latter a lot easier to follow?