1. Write like you talk.
One of the fastest ways to improve your writing is not to write any word or phrase you wouldn’t use in conversation. That means deleting a phrase like “I am of the opinion that” — and replacing it with the conversational “I think.” Don’t worry — your readers won’t miss the formal stuff.
2.When in doubt, hit “Enter.”
A two- or three-line paragraph is a lot easier to read than a seven-line paragraph. Break up your longer blocks of text.
3. Avoid vague expressions.
Precise language is a key to great writing. Watch your use of “I’ll have that any day now” or “I’m finalizing the report.” Replace these with phrases that give concrete information – “I’ll have it for you Tuesday.”
4. Give your points room.
Want to make a point as strongly as possible? Give it lots of breathing room on the page or screen. Nothing makes a statement like “We came in under budget” more powerful or memorable than placing it all alone in its own paragraph.
5. Watch the jargon.
COTS. WYSIWYG. FASB. What am I talking about? Exactly. Not all of your readers know the quirky language of your area of focus. So when you’re writing for any audience other than your inner circle of co-workers, don’t use jargon without defining each term.
Don’t use words that might trip you up.
A confession: I almost always mispronounce the word “distribute” or any variation of it – distributing, distribution, distributor, etc. – especially when I’m talking fast. If I’m describing a series of participants in a supply chain, for example – “… manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors…” – I’ll place the emphasis on the wrong syllable and say “dis-tributors” rather than “dis-trib-utors.”
During a live presentation you get just one chance to deliver each line, each word, flawlessly. If you stumble over or mispronounce a word, it can disrupt the flow of the point you’re making. If it happens more than a few times, it can also make both you and your audience uncomfortable.
It’s a good idea to monitor yourself for any words that trip you up – your own versions of “distribute” – and make a point to keep those words out of your live talks.
When you catch yourself in conversation slipping up on a word, jot it down and add it to your list. Then, when you’re preparing notes for your presentation, you can refer to that list and make sure that no part of your talk will put you in a position where you have to use one of these words.
It’s also a good idea to keep out long, complex words from your presentations. All of us occasionally trip over words like “inexplicable,” “extemporaneous” or “demagoguery.” So try not to include words like these in your presentations or speeches.
Trim fat. Leave less. Cut, cut, cut. Your writing will be far better.
Clean your desk.
Sounds like an odd tip for better writing. But stay with me.
Imagine you’re about to write a policy memo to your staff. You lift the file folders off of your chair and set them on the floor, then sit down at your cluttered desk (which your colleagues call “Mount Stackapaper”).
You remember that one of the files you just set on the floor has an important letter you need to read before this afternoon’s conference call. You remind yourself to dig out that letter as soon as possible.
Next you push aside a small pile of notebooks blocking your mouse, and you realize one of them has your notes from the morning’s staff meeting, which you need to type up and distribute. Note to self: do that after the policy memo… no, wait, after you read that letter in the file on the floor.
You grab your mouse, open a blank document on your word processor, and begin thinking of a title for your policy memo. But then you spot a series of sticky notes affixed to your monitor. One of them reminds you to “CALL JANICE RE: OPEN ENROLLMENT QUESTION!” Note to self: call Janice, then find notes in notebook, then read the letter that’s somewhere on the floor.
The clutter around your workspace is sending you a constant stream of reminders and obligations and distractions. The mess is keeping you from being able to focus fully on your current task: writing that policy memo.
Even if you manage to complete a draft, what are the chances it will be as good as it could be? Not very good, because you’ll have written it over the constant, distracting noise of your office clutter.
Contrast that scenario with sitting down to write at a completely clean desk. You pull up your chair and see only your monitor, mouse and keyboard in front of you. You take a deep breath and begin focusing on just one thing: policy memo. That ability to focus, that clarity in your mind about the task at hand, means you are going to write a better document.
Related suggestion: A clean, organized workspace is ideal for writing time. But if you can’t clear the clutter, and you can’t find a clean space for writing, use someone else’s desk. Their clutter might be annoying, but it won’t mean anything to you, so it won’t be as distracting as your own.