A No-nonsense Guide To Clearer, Sharper, And Better Writing

writing pad

A great idea wrapped in flimsy writing is a waste of words.

On the other hand, an average but clearly expressed thought enjoys more attention.

Why bother about good writing practices, you ask? You are a blogger, not a would-be author of the next best-seller.

Don’t fool yourself. You are first a writer, then a blogger. And yes, you are a published author. Your blog is the publication of your ideas.

Even though you are doing good with your current writing style, you will do even better with more refined writing habits. Just like a bad design prevents users from getting to the content, a messy writing style limits the potential effectiveness of your ideas.

To utilize the full potential of your ideas, you have to grow a habit of passing your writing through strict quality filters.

I have always been an advocate of good writing practices. Though, my writing is by no means the best example of effective and clear writing, trying to overcome an old habit is no joke.

Here are the top 5 writing practices that I’ve been trying hard to incorporate into my writing, and that you should also learn.

Get rid of doubt

Writing is about sharing your ideas with your readers. If you are not clear enough about your own thoughts, your readers will also hesitate to continue reading you in future.

An example of doubtful sentence:

I think you should go ahead with your plans.

A clearer version would say:

I believe you should go ahead with your plans. OR, You should go ahead with your plans. OR, Go ahead with your plans.

See, doubt is unnecessary. You are giving your opinion anyway, so why create doubt? When you say I should go ahead with my plans, you want me to do so. I am more likely to follow your advice if you tell me clearly. Prefixing the sentence with doubtful "I think" will rob the sentence of its effectiveness.

Here are more doubt-creating words you should avoid:

I think, I guess, sort of, kind of, well, you know, etc.

Use agile verbs

Verbs animate your sentences. Without verbs, your writing is lifeless.

Usually, there are many stronger sub-verbs for every main common verb. Verbs that dig out the meaning from the bottom of your ideas. So why settle for common verbs and end up generalizing?

Example of a common verb:

His RSS subscribers have increased.

A stronger version:

His RSS subscribers have multiplied. OR, His RSS subscribers have doubled/tripled/quadrupled.

Whenever you write a sentence, look for the mundane verbs and see if you can replace them with stronger and more precise alternatives.

Some more common verbs and their stronger alternatives:

Dull: He ran. Stronger: He sprinted. Dull: He walked past me quickly. Stronger: He hurried past me. Dull: He changed his blog’s design. Stronger: He redesigned his blog.

Highlight the doer not the done

This is a common writing advice, yet hardly acted upon by anyone (Yes this is intentional).

Passive voice reverses the action. It’s like watching a movie in reverse mode, where you see the person being shot first, and then follow the bullet back to the pistol and then the shooter himself.

Always highlight the doer first, and guide your readers to his ultimate action.

Example of passive sentence:

His comment was appreciated by the blogger.

Improved version:

The blogger appreciated his comment.

In first instance, your mind is unclear about what is happening until you read the whole sentence. And in the improved version, you see and follow it from the doer’s perspective and reach the conclusion in a natural order.

Prefer smaller words

Bloggers better heed this advice. Your audience comes from different countries and age-groups, and not all of them can match your remarkable language skills.

Use smaller words wherever possible. In fact, search your writing for words that end with "tion" (e.g. initiation) and the likes, and replace them with smaller and less intimidating alternatives.

An example of improper use of dense words:

He exacerbated the situation with his presence.

A  better alternative:

He made matters worse with his presence.

Now, it is better to use strong words instead of run-of-the-mill words, but when the choice is between an ordinary word and a specialized but dense word, I go for the former. It’s your own judgement call really. Use what fits the context best.

Unstuff your sentences

There is nothing worse in a writing than sentences and phrases that are inappropriately ornate with unnecessary and redundant elements and words throughout the whole and entire piece of writing (phew!).

You can express any given idea in fewer words than you currently use, and express yourself with the clarity you only dreamt of.

Words like "there is, it is, want to, need to, anything, etc." serve to distract the reader’s attention. A tighter sentence with no redundant words attracts the eyes like a magnet, and keeps the mind from wandering off.

Take the first sentence of this section for example:

There is nothing worse in a writing than sentences and phrases that are inappropriately ornate with unnecessary and redundant elements and words throughout the whole and entire piece of writing.

An unstuffed version:

Redundant words ruin the beauty of writing.

Which one is clearer and gets the point across?

Remember, trying to write better is a constant fight against our unrefined writing habits. We have been writing without giving any thought to the process of writing itself for so long, that it is rather awkward picking out flaws in our own writing.

You have to make writing better your habit to become a natural writer just like all those guys you envy.

Your thoughts?

How much you care about the way you write? Do you think you are expressing your ideas clearly?

35 comments so far and counting

  1. NaBloPoMo: Welcome to the Half Way Point | Live at the KitKat Lounge
  2. Freaky Friday Link Love
  3. How To Write More, Worry Less, And Create Great Content | Blogging Bits
  4. Top 15 Monday Morning Stars of the Week, Nov 19 | a Blog by Scott Fillmer
  5. Top 15 Monday Morning Stars of the Week, Nov 19 | Auburn Images Photography by Scott Fillmer

Come on, say something!