A picture may be worth a thousand words — but sometimes, three clearly written sentences can be worth more than an entire novel. As today’s workforce moves online at higher rates than ever before, the ability to communicate through writing has become a component in any job; being a better writer is more important than ever. It’s so easy to misinterpret the written tone online, which means it’s up to you to make sure your writing is top quality, easy to understand and doesn’t require an hour of translation on the receiving end.
The Components of Good Writing
The first component you can employ to ensure you’re producing quality writing is ensuring your spelling and grammar are correct, as per the rules of your language. Advances in spellcheck across almost all major software platforms make spelling seem like an easy win – however, you should always watch out for homophones and homonyms that may trip you up. For example: there, their, and there are all used in completely different ways in each sentence, but none of them will trip your spellcheck. Likewise, here and hear are both similar-sounding words, but can’t be interchanged. Watch for other easy trip-ups like tense changes, improperly used apostrophes, and pronouns. Use punctuation correctly as well; sentence fragments and run-ons are equally hard to read through.
The second component is style – while some pieces may call for you to write with flair or pizzaz, in this case, style refers to something a little different. Good writing draws you in; it has varied sentence lengths that have clear and concise meanings. Style may not matter as much in a three-sentence email but recognizing the difference between writing a formal report and writing a casual blog article is vital. If you’re writing online content – even if it’s your own – you need to develop a style that others find entertaining to read.
The third component is just as important as style, grammar and spelling: knowing your audience. Knowing your audience affects the style in which you write. Think about who you’re targeting – you wouldn’t write to a younger audience and an older audience the same way.
Practice Makes Perfect
Yes, the adage is true: to become a better writer, you’ll need to practice the art. One of the best tools to become a better writer is daily writing. You don’t need to agonize about it, though; you can take 10 minutes a day to jot down some thoughts in a journal, or 30 minutes a day to work on a professional project. You can submit your work to an online analysis tool, send it to a friend to get their opinion, or look up individual grammar rules you may be confused by. Checking your work against standard language rules will help you know what mistakes you shouldn’t make again, and your work will evolve appropriately.
Reading: Turning Input to Output
One of the best ways to learn about writing is to read other works similar to what you are looking to produce. If you’re in a technical work environment, this might mean setting aside some time each day to read through professional literature to learn about the style. For a blogger, other blogs that approach the same topics can be a great resource. For an aspiring novelist, find some pieces in your desired genre and read those publications.
Most published writing has been thoroughly edited by a professional; while everyone makes mistakes, you can generally count on professional material to help you learn when to use those pesky semicolons or how to best phrase a question. As long as the material you choose is coming from a credible source (rather than your neighbor’s unedited blog, for example), reading a number of different voices in your field can help you grow your own voice.
Utilize Available Tools
Luckily, there are many tools online available to help you learn how to write better. These tools can point out in detail where you may be making mistakes, as well as how to correct them.
● Grammarly.com: Grammarly is a free program that will analyze anything you write for typical grammar errors in the English language. (If you don’t want the web browser app, you can spot-check your writing here.) This tool pinpoints sentences that may be constructed wrong and offer grammatically correct solutions.
● Hemingwayapp.com: Hemingway judges your pieces in terms of general readability. It will identify things such as a sentence that might be too complicated, places you’ve used a word that can be replaced with a simpler one, and sentences that don’t need the adverbs you’ve helpfully added. It will also assign your piece a readability score based on general American education. This can help you determine whether your piece is too simple or too complex.
● OneLook Reverse Dictionary: This reverse dictionary helps you figure out that word that’s on the tip of your tongue. Using what clues you give, this site will help you find the proper term for whatever you’re trying to reference. For example, “guy that throws the baseball” brings up the term pitcher on the first try. It can help immensely when you get stuck looking for the perfect word.
The truth is, you won’t become a better writer unless you’re willing to put some work into it. Remember how continuous improvement works: use what you know to create a piece, analyze that piece for mistakes, and then apply what you’ve learned to your next work. No matter what career field you’re going into, having a fundamental understanding of good writing can only help you.
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