Whether you want to land your dream job, score a promotion, persuade a new client, or grow your blog on Google or social media, writing is one of the most powerful skills you can learn.
I have personally written thousands of articles over the years, covering everything from writing itself to digital marketing, travel, insurance, and more. My work has been featured on some of the world’s top marketing blogs, including Shopify, Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, and many others. I’ve built my entire career on the written word.
I don’t say this to gloat—just to show you that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to writing. And I’m about to share what I know.
In this article, we’ll go through 21 tips to become a better writer. But first, let’s discuss what “good writing” really is.
Writing is part art, part science. There are no perfect words or perfect sentences, but there is a clear difference between good writing and bad writing.
Good non-fiction writing:
Good writing really comes from good editing. It’s rare that a first draft comes out polished and ready to publish.
But great writing has some extra spice to it. It intrigues and motivates. It moves the reader to want to do something. It gets you thinking.
Being a good writer is easy. Being a great writer takes time and dedication. Either way, becoming a better writer starts by following some basic tips and practicing often.
In my decade of writing professionally (and many more years before that writing for fun), I’ve learned a lot about how to be a better writer. And I’ve boiled down my best advice into the following 21 tips.
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you should always know what your goal is.
Why are you writing this article/email/book? What do you want the reader to take away from your writing?
For example, my goal for this article is to help you, the reader, become a better writer. That (hopefully) means you will follow some of these tips and implement them the next time you write.
Once you have a rough idea of your goal, it’s time to organize your thoughts with an outline.
A content outline will help you structure your writing logically and let it flow more naturally. It’s also helpful to get the bulk of your research out of the way before you start writing. This is so you don’t get distracted going back and forth between writing and research.
Plus, if you’re writing blog content, having an outline makes it easier to optimize your content for search engines from the get-go rather than optimization being an afterthought.
After you start writing, it’s important to give it your full attention. This may sound simple, but avoid distractions like kids running around or checking your phone or email.
I personally like to turn my phone on “silent” and mute my notifications, put on noise-canceling headphones, and listen to instrumental Lo-fi music. You can experiment to see if your brain does better with complete silence or light instrumental music. Heck, sometimes I even write while listening to bass-heavy EDM.
Regardless, limit distractions as much as possible and allow yourself to focus on your writing.
Effervescent writing with decorative wording doesn’t serve to create an erudite discussion but rather sounds bloviating and obfuscates the actual meaning of your communication…
… or rather, fancy words only confuse people.
While using these words may make your writing look interesting, it detracts from the goal of being clear and concise. It makes it more difficult for the reader to understand your message.
Instead, try to use the simplest and easiest-to-understand words you can while still explaining what you’re trying to say.
Similar to using smaller words, you should also aim to shorten your sentences.
Imagine if I wrote something that your brain had to continue to read, with multiple commas, multiple ideas, and varying concepts, all in one huge run-on sentence, that just didn’t seem to end, no matter how badly you wanted it to, not giving you any time to take a breath or digest the ideas you’re learning, and it just keeps dragging on…
Makes things hard to follow, right?
Instead, keep each sentence under 16–25 words unless absolutely necessary, and only share one or two ideas per sentence.
That said, you shouldn’t just use small sentences. If you do, it can get boring. Similar-sized sentences don’t entice. See what I’m doing here? All these sentences are of near-similar lengths.
Compare that to this paragraph, where wording and length are varied. Share something quickly. Then reinforce it with a longer sentence that digs deeper, keeping the brain engaged. Maybe throw in a medium-length sentence as well.
Don’t stress too much about sentence length, but keep it in the back of your mind. It helps to give your writing some rhythm and make it sound more interesting.
Too often I see new writers trying to write in a way that sounds “professional.” Rather than writing in their natural voice and style, they try to sound too buttoned up.
This comes off as boring.
Instead, write like how you talk—within reason, of course. Don’t write a research paper like this. But if you’re writing a casual email or blog post, your writing should sound natural and flow as if you’re talking directly to the reader rather than giving a lecture to them.
Remember how I said there’s a difference between good writers and great writers? Good writers learn a few tips and write once in a while. Great writers put in the time to practice.
This doesn’t necessarily mean writing an article every day. All forms of writing count, whether that’s crafting an email, writing a blog post, or scribbling in a journal. Have fun with it.
As any good copywriter will tell you, the purpose of a paragraph isn’t to convey an idea or make a point. Rather, it’s to get someone to read the next paragraph.
Knowing how to transition from one idea or paragraph to the next is one of the biggest secrets to keep readers glued to the page. And that’s done with transitions.
The best way to get good at transitions is by reading your work out loud to spot abrupt changes or awkward spots, then editing to smooth these spots out. I talk more about that in the next tip.
Remember: Good writing comes from good editing.
One of the biggest improvements I ever made to my writing came from reading my writing out loud while editing. By reading out loud, it becomes glaringly obvious where your writing sounds awkward, doesn’t transition well, or straight up doesn’t sound good.
If you use only a single tip from this article, use this one.
Physically writing in a journal has been shown to have many health benefits, such as reducing anxiety and stress, helping you organize your thoughts, and even coping with depression.
But it also makes you a better writer.
Something about putting an actual pen to paper is magical. Doing this let me experience my second-biggest writing improvement (after the “reading work out loud” tip).
Your writing will be made better after reading this. You will write better after reading this.
Which of those two sentences sounds better? The latter is written in active voice, while the former is written in passive voice.
Active voice always packs more of a punch in a smaller package. It’s more interesting to read because it talks about a present action rather than some future possibility.
Check out Grammarly’s guide to active vs. passive writing to learn more.
Good writing comes from good editing. You can’t edit without a first draft.
Don’t expect to write something up, never read it over, and have it published and sound amazing. It just doesn’t work like that 99% of the time.
Instead, write your thoughts in a first draft, then edit, edit, and edit some more.
Adverbs are great when you really need to emphasize a point. See what I did there?
Using too many adverbs too often is just not necessary and really only distracts from the very point you’re really trying to make.
Or: Using adverbs too often is not necessary and distracts from the point you’re trying to make.
Instead of saying “really,” or “very,” or whatever other adverb, try using the word without the adverb. Just delete the adverb and read the sentence out loud. And 9 times out of 10, you’ll find the adverb isn’t necessary and removing it makes your writing punchier.
Commas, dashes, colons, and the like are all fantastic tools. But you need to know how to use the tools. Otherwise, they detract from—rather than enhance—your writing.
I often see new writers over-using long dashes and commas. You’d be surprised at how often you can just delete commas and still be grammatically correct.
Here’s a handy guide to help you get better with punctuation.
If removing a word from a sentence—or a sentence from a paragraph—doesn’t take away from the point you’re trying to make, it’s probably fluff.
Too often we throw extra words or sentences into our writing to beef up the word count or sound more sophisticated. Don’t do that.
In my opinion, great non-fiction writing is about saying the most while using the fewest words. Again, it comes back to editing. Edit out the fluff like your life depends on it.
Having a fresh set of eyes on your work can help give you a perspective you couldn’t get when your head was down. Even if it’s just a friend or colleague who isn’t a great writer, have them read it and give you feedback.
You’ll either get a nice dopamine hit from the praise or some ideas on what sucks. Either way, it’s a win-win.
Feedback from your peers is important, but what really matters is your final audience.
Not only will this improve your reader’s retention, but it will also help your content show up in Google search results. Doing some basic research can help your content align with search intent.
Search intent is the why behind the query. Why did they search for that phrase? What are they exactly searching for?
You can figure this out with some basic keyword research. Follow our guide to learn more.
How many times did you need to write a paper in school or something for work that you just couldn’t care less about? How well did the paper come out?
Chances are, it could have been better. Great writers are genuinely curious about the thing they’re writing about, and that curiosity propels them to find the right words and sound more interesting.
So if you’re struggling to write about whatever you need to write about, find a way to get curious about it. Watch some interesting videos on YouTube or read interesting news stories on it. Do whatever you need to get curious.
If you want to be a great writer, you should read other great writers’ work. Find the best writers in the field you want to write about and start reading.
Google is your friend here.
My third-biggest writing improvement happened when I started writing at coffee shops, restaurants, cool hotels, and even out in nature.
There’s something about getting into a fresh environment that shakes your brain up and helps you find better words. Next time you’re struggling to write, go out and write somewhere new.
Finally, if you’ve followed all these tips and still can’t seem to find the right words, just step away for a while. A good night’s rest can do wonders.
It’s funny how many times I felt like I was bashing my head off a brick wall trying to write something. But then just putting it down for tomorrow completely turned it around for me.
Sometimes, it’s best to put the pen down for a bit.
The best writers make writing a daily practice and aren’t afraid to ruthlessly edit their work.
My three biggest tips out of the 21 are to read your writing out loud, keep a journal, and try writing in new places. Hopefully, those three simple things will help you become a better writer.
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Source: ahrefs.com, originally published on 2022-07-28 02:00:00