Sharpen those pencils — it’s time to add a bit of spice to your sentences and panache to your paragraphs. Spring is not only a great time to hang out stale linens and plant your bulbs. It’s perfect for reinvigorating old writing habits.
Try out these 12 tips as you might a new running route. You’ll get a quick energy boost while writing (who says composition can’t be fun?), and your readers will be sure to thank you.
1. The BLUF
Make it easier and faster for your reader to figure out what you’re getting at: put the “Bottom Line Up Front.” State your intent in the opening line. This works especially well in email, executive summaries, and other business writing where time and patience with obscurity is limited.
2. The MECE list
Another handy acronym, MECE means, “Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive.” Consultants use this concept to ensure each point they make in a paper is not redundant but can stand on its own (the “mutually exclusive” part), and that together the points paint the entire picture (the “collectively exhaustive” bit). In other words, don’t include multiple things in a list that mean the same thing, and make sure your entire list represents all you want to say on the subject.
3. Varied sentence length
Add energy to your prose by following a long sentence with a shorter one. You can do this with paragraphs as well.
4. Story time
Brief stories help to illustrate abstract concepts. Use them sparingly, but definitely use them.
When writing a fairly dry technical paper, apt quotes provide relief and work well as section introductions.
6. The priceless picture
A picture’s worth a thousand words — use graphics, photos, and other appropriate images to replace lengthy narrative.
7. Rule of threes
See what I did there in point 6 (“…graphics, photos, and other appropriate images…”)? Threes can spice up descriptive lists in a sentence. But go easy. Not every sentence needs a list, of any length.
8. Muscle verbs
Replace “to be” or passive verbs with words that work for you. For example, instead of “It was determined by senior management what the strategic priorities would be,” write “Senior management determined the strategic priorities.”
9. The cliché cut
Limit your use of worn out phrases. You know what I’m talking about — the old “think outside the box…” “paradigm-shifting…” “no-brainer.” Simply say what you mean.
10. The hesitation hack
Everyone has their favorite way of hedging their bets in writing. After a first draft, go back and look for softening words or phrases, such as maybe, perhaps, just, or “I think.” Then delete them.
Whether it’s a list of twelve points or a document of twenty pages, pick your style and stick with it. For example, in this list I chose to go with nouns. It would have been awkward to switch half-way through and start verbing at you with things like “Vary sentence length” or “Be consistent,” right?
12. Call to action
If the purpose of your document/email/paper is to persuade someone to do something, tell them. The close offers a natural place to spell out what you want your reader to do next, but in some cases, the opening works as well (see the BLUF).
As a bonus, I leave you with the most important tool for clear writing: Courage. Be brave enough to drop the hedging words, the passivity, the avoidance, the inconsistencies and redundancies. Make your case with clarity. Then get out of the way.
Did you see yourself in any of these? Which bad writing habits do you need to replace? Let me know in the comments section.
Photo credit: Big Stock Photos