The seven easiest ways to improve your writing

Whether you think of yourself as a skilled writer or dread reaching for the keyboard, writing probably plays a critical role in your daily work. You may not be authoring articles for professional journals, but you probably have to create emails, reports, and other items that require some writing skill.

Following a few simple, easy-to-remember bits of advice will make everything you write more communicative and effective.

1. Communicate, don’t complicate. Write to ensure that your message is conveyed and understood, rather than to impress the recipient. Choose familiar language, basic words, and simple sentence structure. If you know what you’re talking about, it will come through more clearly and there’s less chance that your meaning will be misunderstood.

2. Abolish semicolons. The semicolon is a powerful tool when used correctly; most people mistakenly employ it as a fancier comma. Rather than risk a misuse, reword the sentence or break it into two sentences so you don’t need the semicolon.

3. Limit syllables. A great vocabulary is impressive, but it’s important to remember that not everyone who will read your writing understands the meaning of perspicacious or lugubrious. So use words like shrewd or dismal, which are more well-known. It isn’t a matter of “dumbing down” your writing – it’s making sure it communicates effectively.

4. Keep it conversational. Unless you’re creating a term paper for your English Composition class, skip the fancy style in favor of writing the way people talk. It’s okay to start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions, because people do that in conversations. The words you write will be more effective when they don’t sound like grammar lessons.

5. Use you. Again, unless you’re writing an assignment for a college class, use the second person (you) in your communications materials. Don’t say “system users can save time and money” when you can say “you can save time and money.” You’ll do a better job of connecting with the reader, and at a subconscious level, the reader will believe you’re speaking directly with them.

6. Read it aloud. Before you send something, read it out loud. If you get through it without stumbling and it sounds good, it’s probably well-written. But if you find yourself tripping over sentence structure or gasping for breath, rewrite it and try again.

7. Edit, edit, edit. Each time you read what you’ve written, look for minor changes that will improve it. If you have time, walk away from it, and look at it again after lunch or in the morning. You may be surprised at how much better it reads with a few fixes.