Marketing & Communications Strategy | Development | Interactive Design
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A brilliant idea deserves to be expressed with brilliant writing. If you aren’t a professional writer, writing an inspired product description might sound like an impossible goal. Or maybe elegant prose doesn’t reflect your idea of what to expect in a status report. But that report is how you show the value of your work, and that description is what persuades readers to become buyers.
It may not always be easy, but writing well is worth the effort, and the best way to improve is to practice. Regardless of what you are working on, here are some universal tips to help you write with confidence.
1. Write with a purpose.
Before you start to write, clearly define the goal of the piece. Everything you write should lead back to that goal. When you go back to edit, if you find good ideas that don’t quite fit, cut them out and save them in an inspiration file.
2. Bad first drafts are good.
Even the pros don’t write a perfect draft on the first try. Get your ideas on paper without worrying about polished writing. You can even wander from your goal at this stage. Once you have a draft, or even an outline, you can make iterative improvements, starting with the broadest changes. Save tricky formatting and detailed proofreading for the final draft.
3. Anticipate readers’ needs.
Think about the questions your readers might have and try to answer them. Include only as much information as you need to make your point, and organize it so they can find what they need. Also consider using different formats to find the best fit for the information.
4. Show logic, evoke emotion, establish credibility.
These are the three pillars of persuasive writing. Even if you don’t think you are writing a persuasive piece, you still need to convince your audience to keep reading. Use these basic tactics alone or together for different audiences and purposes.
5. Use simple sentences for tough concepts.
Some ideas are complicated. Slow readers down with short sentences. This helps them focus and understand.
6. Focus on “do” instead of “don’t”
Positive phrasing is more direct and puts your reader in a positive state of mind. You can also rephrase criticisms to moderate their impact, or reframe an obstacle as an opportunity.
7. Watch out for weak wording.
Cut or revise any words that you don’t need, and avoid using jargon that your audience may not understand. Check out the Federal Plain Language Guidelines for some great examples of what to look for, including redundant or empty words and phrases, adverbs, prepositions, passive voice and verbs acting as nouns.
8. Repeat your point without sounding redundant.
Introductions and conclusions help reinforce your message, but they should do more than repeat the body text. The introduction should prepare the readers and provide context, and the conclusion should summarize and emphasize the purpose of the piece.
9. Use spelling and grammar checkers wisely.
A computer can tell you if a word isn’t in its dictionary, but it usually can’t tell if you used a word incorrectly. Word processors and online services can help you find weak points in your writing, but they can’t catch everything and many don’t offer useful fixes. Take advantage of the technology available to you, but remember that human judgement should always be the deciding factor.
10. Always read the whole thing at least once.
If you have time, wait a day (or even an hour) between finishing a draft and reading it. You’ll give your mind a chance to reset and see what you wrote more clearly. Even better, find an empty room and read the draft out loud. This forces you to slow down and listen to the pacing and flow of your writing, making it easier to catch mistakes and awkward phrases.
If all of this sounds like a lot, try focusing on one tip at a time. Before you know it, all of those small changes will make a big difference.
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