Tactical tricks for becoming a better writer

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

(Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

For some the writing process is cathartic, while for others it’s more like torture. As a college student, having good writing skills is more critical for certain majors than others. However, once college is over, to compete in today’s job market, good writing skills aren’t an elective — they are a MUST. We could all use a lesson or two on how to brush up on our writing. Here are some useful tips on how to become a better writer.

Listen with attention

How many people do you know who are good listeners? I’d bet not all that many. Listening is a highly undervalued skill, but it can do wonders in helping your writing to get better. Like novelist Chuck Wendig says in his terribleminds.com blog post, “25 ways to become a better writer,” a good listener can tell how words sound on the page (be advised this post has some naughty language).

“We read with our ears as much as with your eyes and so it’s critical you know what sounds good as well as what reads well,” Wendig writes. “Sit down at a bar, listen to a conversation. Turn on an audio book or a radio show. Listen to a stand-up comedian deliver jokes and stories. Write it down if you must — see how it lays on the page.”

Read aloud

Hearing yourself reading your own work out loud may seem strange at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll notice right away those areas of your writing that just don’t jive. If it doesn’t read well while you’re reading it aloud, it probably needs some tweaking.

Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and NY Times best-selling author, posted to LinkedIn February 21, 2013, in “Want to be taken seriously? Become a better writer,” how reading out loud has saved him.

“It’s great to hear my writing the way others will ‘hear’ it as they read,” Kerpen said. “Especially since tone in emails is difficult to convey, it’s valuable to say what you’re writing aloud, and then consider a quick edit, before you put it out there.”

Honor your inner weirdo

Stretching that proverbial writing muscle takes some creativity. Whether you’re writing a term paper, thesis or presentation, we can all benefit from some off-the-wall hilariousness. Have an idea for a sci-fi romantic comedy? Jot down a short story or let the ideas flow. The point is to just let the words flow and it’ll be much easier to get back to that boring assignment you’ve been circling for days.

Let the criticism fly

So you know that I know that we are our own worst critics. Sometimes those criticisms are true, but usually they are inflated insecurities floating around in our heads. To get some perspective, it’s always a good idea to tap a friend for some good advice on said work in question. Encourage honesty and keep your trap shut, and you might just get the real answers you’re looking for.

Proofread like your life depends on it

Think no one will notice a couple of typos in that email you sent with your resume? Well, maybe if if the reader is your mom. Otherwise, good luck with denial. The worst case scenario is your potential new boss will zoom in on the error and not hire you. Nothing feels worse than telling yourself, “If I’d only…” We’ve all been there. One of the best ways to avoid this scenario is to get in the habit of proofreading your work, all the time. It’s amazing how even one pass over can save you from disaster.

In a March 9, 2013, post to the Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Be careful what, how you write,” Anita Bruzzese Gannett interviewed Helen Cunningham, author of The Business Style Handbook, to get the skinny on the benefits of proofreading.

“Take time to proof your writing,” Cunningham said. “Read over your emails before sending to make sure they’re well written, and ask a colleague to review important messages or reports. Never put anything in writing that you would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper.”

For more information on writing, visit Questia’s topic page on Communication.

 What tips/exercises have helped you to improve your writing?

16 replies
  1. Larry (Lorenzo Bernardotto - It.) says:

    Well … this is my “method”. When I choose to write a short-story, I usually follow these steps. Example: a journey of my leading character from the eastern States to the Western ones. I write down some notes before to write. Example: note a) name of my character: Jamy; b) Jamy lives in New York and wants to reach South Dakota; c) James leaves New York State on foot; d) Jamy meets a man with a car along a street and he takes him on board; e) Jamy has a chat with this man; f) Jamy reaches Pennsylvania and meets an old lady; he works for her … and so on. When I finish my first section, I usually read it aloud (twice) and verify the errors. I also add some ‘historical’ notes when they are needed. I usually read it three or four times before to finish the entire work. I don’t know if this is the “right method”, but I think it’s very useful. I adopted it in the mid-1990’s when I began writing.

  2. Larry - (Lorenzo Bernardotto - It.) says:

    But … “why” this method? Well … I was inspired by … yes … Mr. Frederick Jackson Turner, the “father of the American frontier theory”. I was on my hills that summer … about one and a half year ago … I was walking along a trail and I had Mr. Turner biography between my hands. Suddenly … I read some lines of Mr. Ray Allen Billington’s, Mr. Turner’s biographer: “He used to ‘jot down’ (write down) some notes when he was at Wisconsin University, and when he wrote his theses or books”. So, I thought it was a “right method” for me as well. Thus, as I adopted it since mid-1990’s, I discovered it was also used in early twenty century by an American professor and I was similar to him (at least … about that method!). I was happy, and I thought it was the right thing to do. Then I began to use this method about my Western and colonial American period short-stories. The last one (colonial American period) is just written according to the so-called “Turner method”, that is: a) South Carolina back-country, 1758; b) the British red-coats reach Mr. Singleton house in northwestern South Carolina; b) he is arrested for treason; c) they take him to prison; d) his wife and their friends try to set him free, and so on. First the “notes”, then the “story”, section by section. I also recommend this method to young students and future writers.

  3. Arti Shankar says:

    I find the criticism bit hard. I turn to make heaps of grammar mistakes and most times I go way over word limit.
    Reading this helps but gets hard to put into practice.

    • Larry (Lorenzo Bernardotto - It.) says:

      Oh, no, no, don’t be in despair. Try this method. Grammar mistakes? Oh, everybody turns to make heaps of grammar mistakes. It’s normal. Me too. Please, don’t surrender! Try and try again.

  4. Chenai says:

    I also have a point that I found was really helpful for me. After having read something I’d written, if I realised it sounded too long winded or didnt make sense, I’d always ask myself, “What am I trying to say here?” and then write down my response to that question instead – works every time!

    • Larry (Lorenzo Bernardotto - It.) says:

      Indeed, sometimes, our writings seems too long. But, if you read your our writing twice, at least, after having finished the first section, we “can” delete some lines which seem “nonsense”. Or, we can also “change” some sentences.


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