5 Ways to Improve Your Writing

Monday, October 5, 2015

Though English may not have been everyone's favorite subject, every career requires some skill at written communication whether you be a copywriter or a just a frequent email sender. As you write your memos or speeches or prescriptions or novels, these 5 improvements to your written words may make all the difference.

One \\ Use synonyms. A Thesaurus has been a favorite desk essential for as long as I can remember, but the synonyms feature on word and Thesaurus.com are also great resources. A great rule of thumb is to vary your syntax (sentence structure) and your diction (word choice) in each sentence so you aren't repeating phrases. Some favorite synonyms for "style?" Hmmmm... conduct, attitude, expression, propriety, savoir-faire.

Two \\ Always have a thesis statement. Every written word should have some purpose. Even when simply composing emails, it's to your reader's benefit to have some kind of statement of purpose, usually in the subject line. For essays and assignments and presentations, get to the point, quickly and specifically. A thesis statement should be a one-line summary of the topic of your writing. This is possibly the most important tip because all your other writing will stem from this statement. Does the body of your email or essay support this phrase? If a sentence doesn't directly relate to your thesis it's probably superfluous and you should take it out. Fun fact: the first thing I wrote when starting my blog is its thesis statement: "every individual has a unique style: a gem, deep inside that begs to be made known to the world." Each post celebrates and encourages that individuality!

Three \\ If you can say it in three words, write it in one. Much of our writing is colloquial, particularly emails and short memos. It makes sense, right? When we write, we are dictating to ourselves, thus a casual writing is usually very talkative and informal. The downside to this? If you are a woman (or man!) of many words, there are probably unneeded phrases sprinkled in your writing. Phrases like "due to the fact that" and "a large proportion" and "absolutely essential" can all be reduced or eliminated. For vocabulary enthusiasts, there are names for these unnecessary words: a tautology is a "needless repetition of an idea in a different word, phrase, or sentence," and a pleonasm is "the use of more words than are necessary for the expression of an idea." In other words, just get rid of them. For a complete list of tautologies and pleonasms, check out this resource.

Four \\ Be specific. In addition to removing unnecessary phraseology, it is important to be specific in your writing. Perhaps the most used comment I have when proofreading essays, "being specific" means your descriptions are concrete, definite, and specific. In fact, your descriptions are not descriptions at all, rather confident statements. Consider this example from Strunk & White's The Elements of Style:

A period of unfavorable weather set in.
It rained everyday for a week. 

Besides the reference to our current weather situation in Athens, the second phrase immediately gives the reader an image, (grey skies) a feeling (cold and wet), and an understanding of the situation. And notice the sentiment is expressed in fewer words.

Five \\ Read your words out loud. The very best proofreading comes from physically saying your words back to yourself. Reading an essay or memo out loud allows you to catch grammatical errors, identify awkward or wordy phrasing, and note any holes in your narrative. Though your roommates may think you've gone a little crazy reading out loud to yourself, this method is the quickest and surest way to improve your writing.

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