Most people think they are good writers – that anyone can do it. The truth is that almost anyone can be a good writer, but it takes a lot of practice, and there is always room for improvement. Your first draft? It should be just that – a draft. Improving your writing skills can be as simple as taking the time to review what you’ve written and identifying simple ways to refine your work.
We write a lot of original content, and we edit a lot of content from subject matter experts. Based on our experience, here are some of the questions you should ask yourself to achieve a better final product.
1. Is my draft easy to understand?
Even when you’re writing about complex, nuanced topics, you should use simple, straightforward language. Famously, Ruth Bader Ginsburg tells her law students, “Don’t write sentences that people will have to re-read.” Make your writing as easy to understand as possible.
First, eliminate all jargon. There is a misconception that jargon can make you seem like an expert. In reality, it can alienate readers who aren’t “in” on your buzzwords, and it can make your point that much more difficult to follow.
Next, ditch flowery language. Always opt for the simplest version of the word. You may want to “utilize” fancier words, but your readers prefer that you “use” less pretentious language. Review your copy for unnecessary adjectives, filler descriptors, and lengthy explanations that only serve to complicate your point.
2. Is my draft the right length?
There are times when a lengthy piece of writing is necessary. A well-researched white paper, a thoughtful e-book, and long-form thought leadership articles have a time and a place. Often, however, a shorter piece will fit the bill. We live in a world where it’s hard to capture – and keep – people’s attention, even when it’s a topic they care about! State your case, get to your point, and share your conclusion in a page or two (or less!). If necessary, expand on your topic over a series to keep people interested. Before you spend too much time writing, editing, and packaging a longer piece, consider your platform and your audience, and ask yourself if a shorter piece will better achieve your goals.
3. Is my draft easy to skim?
As stated, readers don’t have the time. If your draft is on the longer side, make it easier for them to pick up on the highlights of what you’re trying to say. Insert subheads, use bullets, and break up the text into short paragraphs that they can easily skim to find the key points.
4. Did I go back to the beginning?
Oftentimes, as you write, you will tighten up your message, and maybe even come to a more thoughtful conclusion. As a result, your existing title and topic sentence(s) may no longer reflect what you’ve written. Go back and try again. These are the first things readers will see, so make sure your topic– and what they’ll get out of reading – is clear.
5. Am I obsessing over my work?
You could write and rewrite forever. It’s easy to get caught up in perfection, and it’s hard to know when you should walk away and hit publish. “Done” is often better than “perfect.” It can be scary to release your words into the world, but the feedback you get from real-world readers will only make you better in the future.
6. Did I read it again?
The biggest mistake you can make is not re-reading what you’ve written. We would argue that the best thing you can do is to read your piece aloud – even if it’s just to yourself! This can illuminate clunky language and highlight areas where more (or less) explanation is required. As you read it, ask yourself if your piece will make sense to your target audience. Have you provided all the information that they need to follow you? Did you provide information that they don’t need, and that may distract them? Do you have transitional phrases and sentences to thoughtfully guide the reader through your analysis? Take stock of where you can make your message stronger and adjust accordingly.
7. Did I ask someone else to read it?
Don’t publish something without a second set of eyes! Find someone who isn’t as entrenched in a topic as you are (this is key) and ask for their opinion on your writing. More importantly, ask them to summarize your main points. If they can’t, that’s a sure sign that you need to do some editing. Don’t be offended; this is valuable feedback! You want your writing to resonate, and external feedback is the only way to be sure you’re hitting the mark.
Many of these suggestions focus on your readers. You want people to be interested in and consume your content – that’s the point, right? So, make it easy for them to do so. Good writing is a process; it’s rarely quick. Take your time, seek feedback, and consider your audience. This will go a long way in improving what you write.