How to be a better writer... even if you aren't a "writer"

by Kimberly Morrow

You may not have the word "writer" in your job title, and you may not consider yourself a writer, but chances are, you write quite a bit. Whether you are blogging, creating content for a web site or brochures, tweeting, or just sending emails, you are communicating with others through writing. So, it's important that you are being clear, speaking in a way that is authentic to you and your brand, and in a way that resonates with your audience. 

There are many ways you can improve your writing—here are just a few of my favorite tips for elevating your content.


Know yourself

Whether you are writing about a product, a company, or yourself, it's important to recognize your brand and write in a way that is consistent with that brand. It's also important to recognize that you have a brand, whether you know it or not. That's because, while branding is often a conscious marketing effort that involves logos and taglines and mission statements, what it really is is much simpler—your brand is the way that people feel about you.  

And, if you want to have a brand that stands the test of time, and that you can really feel good about getting behind, it needs to be authentic to who you really are and what your core values are. So, if you and your brand are fun and fresh, you want to make sure that you are writing in a tone that has that same feel. If your brand is authoritative and historical, that requires an entirely different tone.

Know your audience

Once you figure out who you are and how you want the world to see you, it's important to figure out who you are talking to and what will be useful or meaningful to them.

If your audience is looking to you for advice about an important, serious matter (think finances or health), you want to make sure that you aren't throwing witty quips at them that will undermine your authority. If your audience is looking to you for funny, entertaining content (maybe videos or lifestyle articles), you want to speak to them in a more informal way that fits the content you are putting forth.

Tell a story, not just a tale

Stories open our hearts to a new place, which opens our minds, which often leads to action
— Melinda Gates, Co-Founder, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tales are just a recounting of facts—they are the plot of the story. Stories contain facts, but they also evoke an emotional response and inspire people to action—they are the moral lesson or higher truth. Think about the books, songs, movies, or plays that have really struck something in you–they often make you feel an emotion and have some higher purpose that taught you something.

Take Star Wars for instance. The tale is that there is an orphan boy who decides he wants to fight with the rebellion against the empire that killed his family, and he meets some droids, and finds out he has a sister. Pretty boring stuff, right? The story is much more interesting—an orphan boy feels lost and alone, but through the strength he finds from great friends and the strength he ultimately find in himself, he’s able to do incredible things that he never even thought possible, save the lives of those he cares about, and spread hope to the rebellion. That’s so much more interesting.

You may be asking yourself at this point, what this has to do with the content that you’re writing (since I’m guessing you aren’t writing a novel or movie screenplay). The answer is, quite a bit. You also have a story to tell and you have a higher purpose or value to communicate to people. So, if, for instance, you are writing about a new product that your company has, instead of just spewing out the facts about it (specs, features, cost, etc.), get to the real meat that people care about–how it’s going to better their lives.

Be clear and concise

While shorter writing isn't always better, it does help when you are writing content for space-limited media, such as a Tweet or web content on a mobile device. You shouldn't sacrifice your story just to be short though—that's where being clear and concise come in. They make your writing both shorter and better.

Let’s face it, people are busy and they have so much stimuli being thrown at them constantly, both online and in real life, that you need to grab their attention right away. By being concise, you are getting to the point quickly and not wasting your audience’s time with a bunch of clutter. People are impatient and they will just leave and go look somewhere else… and then all of your writing efforts are for nothing.

AN EASY WAY TO CREATE MORE CLEAR, CONCISE WRITING

In my college freshman Editing class, I learned about something called the Paramedic Method. It's called that because it's a fairly easy way to triage a sentence and make some tweaks that help save it quickly. There are seven steps and they don't require you to know much grammar (a little, but nothing too hard) and the more you practice these seven steps, the better and better your writing becomes until you don't even have to think about it anymore.

This video will guide you through how to use the Paramedic Method and gives you some practice sentences to further your study.

Better Writing in 7 Easy Steps (07:55)

FROM THE VIDEO:

7 STEPS OF THE PARAMEDIC METHOD

  1. Circle the prepositions (of, in, at, about, to, on, for, onto, into).
  2. Draw a box around the "is" verb forms (is, are, be, been).
  3. Ask, "Where's the action?"
  4. Change the "action" into a simple verb.
  5. Move the doer into the subject (Who's kicking whom?).
  6. Eliminate unnecessary slow wind-ups.
  7. Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary words.

EXAMPLE SENTENCE BEFORE AND AFTER

  • Before (24 words)
    The point I wish to make is that the employees working at this company are in need of much better management of their time.
  • After (8 words)
    Employees at this company need better time management. 

ADDITIONAL PRACTICE SENTENCES

  1. It is widely known that the engineers at the labs have become active participants in the Search and Rescue operations in most years.
  2. After reviewing the results of your previous research, and in light of the relevant information found within the context of the study, there is ample evidence for making important, significant changes to our operating procedures.

IN CONCLUSION...

I hope you find these tips helpful. Please reach out with any questions or if you have something you use to improve your writing that could help others. I'd also love to see how you improve the additional practice sentences—you could post them in a comment below or send us a message.

We're all on this crazy ride together, so let's make it a little better, one piece of content at a time.