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Are there only 10 things you can do to improve your writing? Of course not. But these are a good place to start. I taught them to all of my writing students over 10 years of college and university teaching, and felt I made progress.

1. Shorten your sentences. “In order to write better, one must evaluate each sentence for excess words” ::: “To write better, shorten your sentences.

2. Use the active voice. “The material at the plant was picked up by George.” ::: “George picked up the material at the plant.” Note that writing actively also shortens sentences. TIP: subject-verb-object.

3. Be positive. “I can’t say I wouldn’t be interested.” ::: “I might be interested.”

4. Write as you speak. “One must always be on one’s toes.” ::: “I need to be on my toes.” It’s more understandable. Also, fewer words.

5. Kill your darlings. If you re-read a sentence and a word or phrase stands out as awkward, it probably is. Were you trying to be clever, or to communicate better? Replace it with a better word.

6. Vary sentence structure. Just as you wouldn’t want to begin every sentence with “I,” you don’t want every sentence to begin with a modifying clause or be exactly the same length.

7. Listen. Listen to what you’re writing. Does it read smoothly? Or is it sing-songy? Do the words make sense? Do not try to “write smart.” Write for the ear, for how people talk. It will be the most understandable communication. Oh, and it’s OK these days to end a sentence with a preposition.

8. Write to your audience. “You” has always been the most important word in advertising. “You” engages your audience immediately. Try it.

9. Rewrite. No, your first draft will not be OK. Re-read and re-write.

10. In a series, simple -> complex. “Jack and Jill walked up the hill, then down the hill, and finally to have lunch with Jacques.”

10 things to improve your writing

by susan time to read: 1 min
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