12 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing

Writing presents an interesting challenge.

As writers, we take amorphous, organic thoughts and sift them through a fairly rigid system of language rules in order to get them on paper.

Through this process we want to retain the creative, yet make it cohesive and grammatical enough so that others can understand.

When I start to feel a little overwhelmed by the process, sometimes it helps me to focus on some fundamentals. Over these years, the following are some of the tips I have found most helpful:

  1. Organize! Even for a short piece, know what your big idea is (in school we called it the thesis statement) and organize to support it.
  2. Use active voice. Remember all those forms of “to be” from English class? Well, basically try to avoid those. Instead of saying, “Susan was fired by her vice president, Tim Statler” say “Vice President Tim Statler fired Susan.” See, doesn’t that sound better?
  3. Read aloud what you’ve written. This is the best way to hear the rhythm of the words and to determine whether the words are clear.
  4. Advance the story. Basically, don’t get too far into the weeds. We all like a little description, but don’t get so caught up in it that you can’t figure out where the action is. If you’ve ever read James Fenimore Cooper, you can relate.
  5. Fact check – everything. If you aren’t 100 percent sure of what you’re putting on paper, leave it out. Writers should be truth tellers, so make sure what you’re sharing is correct. If you have a phone number listed in an article, make sure to call it yourself to ensure it works.
  6. Be clear. In general, the more complicated the topic, the shorter your sentences should be. Avoid jargon and clichés.
  7. Show, don’t tell. As Anton Chekhov once said, “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 
  8. Include context in your writing. This requires research, but you should always be able to tell your reader why you’re writing about a particular subject and why it’s important.
  9. Start your story well … if you want the reader to keep going. In the newspaper world we used to call it the lede. It’s the beginning, and you want to use it to grab the reader!
  10. Be succinct. Don’t just keep writing because you can. The best writers can say more with a few words than the worst writers can with all the words in the world.
  11. Read! Read great authors. Read books about writing.
  12. Write! Write! Write some more! Every time you write, you gain experience and knowledge. Keeping a journal can also be a helpful exercise.

–Donna Dunn, a former newspaper writer and editor, has a gift for making words, sentences and paragraphs sing.