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Top tips for better writing

There are many different types of writing: essays, reports, letters, speeches, work emails. Whatever your reason for putting words on the page, and whatever your style, there are some universal tips that will help you tailor your message and improve your writing:

1 Be clear about your purpose

The most basic question to ask yourself before you start is why you are writing.

In an academic essay or assignment, your purpose is to convey information and facts and draw conclusions. But if you are writing a business report, you may want to make recommendations for specific actions. In a letter of complaint you will be looking for a specific result, such as a refund.

Keep your purpose in mind at all times to avoid going off topic. Even better: write it down in as few words as possible, print it out, and keep it next to you as you write.

2 Choose the appropriate style

In conversation, we instinctively adapt what we say and how we say it to suit the people we are talking to. We talk to our manager or lecturer in one way, to friends in another, and so on. For good writing it is essential to do the same: choose a writing style and words that the people for whom you are writing will feel comfortable with and react well to. Academic writing has one style, business writing another, blog writing another.

3 Start with a plan

Far too often people write without a plan. The result is often disjointed writing, with parts that don’t connect, no clear way in, and no obvious way out. Whether you are writing a 10,000-word report or a letter of complaint, creating a clear plan and structure is the crucial first step to getting your message across quickly and in the most effective way. Mindmapping, or organizing information visually with diagrams, can be a useful tool.

4 Write for readers, not yourself

Your aim in writing is to communicate ideas and information to other people, and you must keep that in mind with every word and sentence you write. Constantly ask yourself who each item of information is really for.

Because you have a clear idea about what and why you are writing, it is easy to get carried away and include information that is important to you only—and nobody else. If you write it you could well be wasting your time and other people’s.

5 Guide readers through what you write

Your task is to help readers understand your message quickly and precisely. To do this, it is necessary to show them clearly how the different parts relate to each other.

Each sentence, each paragraph should be relevant to what comes before and what comes after. You should use words and phrases that connect or contrast to show these connections, for example, as a result, in this way, in contrast. Informative headings also help readers follow your train of thought, so don’t be afraid to use them.

6 Use passive verbs appropriately

In certain types of writing, such as scientific contexts, passive verbs are appropriate and widely used. But in more general writing people often use them inappropriately, or overuse them.

The problem is that they can make writing sound impersonal when it needs to be personal because they highlight the action rather than the person performing it. But very often who is performing the action is a crucial part of the message. It is important to understand when the passive is useful and when it is not.

 

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