The difference between a bad writer and a competent writer is obvious: one has a basic grasp of spelling, grammar and language flow, while the other… doesn’t.
But the difference between a good and a great writer? It’s all in the details. Here are seven tricks pro writers use to ensure they pay attention to the small things and deliver the very best copy. Any writer can use these tricks to start improving their craft.
1: Keep your sentences short
Short sentences are snappier, easier to read, and often much more engaging for your readers.
The best part? Writing in short sentences is really easy. Anytime you put a comma in a sentence, just ask yourself: “could this be a full stop instead?”
I’m not necessarily saying you should ditch the comma altogether. After all, long sentences still have a place. By mixing up your sentence lengths and structures though, you can vary your writing, and keep a reader’s attention for much longer.
2: Start a sentence with “and” or “but”
Forget what your English teacher told you. Starting a sentence with “and” or “but” is not only totally allowed, it’s actually preferable in many cases.
Starting with a conjunction helps keep your sentences short, makes your writing punchy, and it’s a great way to catch your reader’s eye when deployed at critical points in your argument.
Of course, if you’re writing for a brand with a set style guide, you need to follow that first and foremost. If your client absolutely hates it, then find an alternative. If your client is on the fence though, it might be worth directing them to www.yesyoucanstartasentencewithand.com to try and convince them.
Yes, that is a real website.
3: Vary your punctuation
Full stops and commas are stalwart classics – but there’s some new kids on the block.
Next time you write some copy, try slipping in:
- A semi-colon
- A colon
- An em or en dash
- Something in brackets
- Bullet points or numbered lists
(Check out this helpful guide to punctuation if you’re a bit unsure on how to use any of these.)
Anything that breaks up the standard flow of things can help you deliver copy that looks and sounds a lot more interesting.
4: Remove repetition
Sometimes repetition is a powerful tool. Most of the time though, it’s an unintentional slip that drags your writing down.
Whether you get caught up in using the same word over and over, or have a particular phrase you keep leaning on, it pays to root out repetition and replace it with alternatives. Your readers will certainly thank you for it.
5: Swap out complex words
Yes, your audience might consist of experienced, intelligent business people. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to pile on overly complicated words and phrases.
Clarity is our main objective, and unnecessary complexity is the enemy of the clear, concise writing style we should all be aiming for.
So, the next time you want to write “utilise” instead of “use,” think about whether it will really help get your point across.
6: Delete your first sentence or paragraph
Starting a complex blog or paper is tough. Many times, in trying to gently set the scene or introduce a topic, you’ll either start with a generic, overused concept, or dabble in some fluffy intro that doesn’t get to the point.
Case in point: how many white papers, blogs, or emails, have you seen start with a riff on the phrase “in today’s challenging business climate”?
We’ve all done it. But there’s a really easy way to avoid this common pitfall. Just go back and delete your first sentence or paragraph. I can guarantee your next section will offer a much clearer introduction that will stick closer to the actual topic you’re writing about.
7: Make one point per paragraph
A lot of writers seem to hold on to the idea that paragraphs must be longer than four lines. That is simply not the case.
One paragraph = one point made. When you’ve finished making that point, you move on to the next in a separate distinct paragraph.
That goes double if you’re writing for a format that will appear in columns or on mobile devices. That’s where small paragraphs really become much easier to read than their 4-line+ counterparts.
Small tips, big writing improvements
Follow these seven tips and you’ll see big writing improvements – fast.
But these are just the low-hanging fruit. There are other, more time-consuming tricks and format-specific tips that can help you take your writing even higher.
New writing tips can come from a range of sources, but if you want a good place to start, you can do much worse than looking through some of the other content on our blog.