The creative thinkers' guide to improving your writing
If you’re not a writer by trade, the task of writing—and writing well—can be daunting. You may work in an office or you may be a blogger or other business owner—whatever type of writing you do, producing well-written, professional writing is key for so many reasons. Weak writing doesn’t catch a reader’s attention, and usually when we write that’s what we set out to do.
When you’re a creative thinker, sometimes learning about grammar and writing skills can be difficult or boring—that’s why we created this guide. We’ll step you through some of the trickier parts of writing in fun ways.
And don’t forget to check out the freebies that come with this post, because they’ll help you to remember what you’ve learnt and then implement it in your writing. We know these concepts can be difficult to grasp, which is why we’ve included these freebies:
- a quiz at the end of each section
- a crossword (in our resource library).
@@This blog post is all about improving your writing AND it comes with a free crossword@@
Hello, my name is Charlotte, and I still struggle with passive voice. Hi, Charlotte. Yes, it’s true. Well, it was true, until I learnt this tip from Rosie:
Passive voice is useful in some situations, like when you want to deflect blame or in creative writing, but generally active voice is better. Using active voice helps to make your writing stronger, more direct, and more pleasant to read. #grammartiptuesday #grammar #tiptuesday #writing #editing #publishing #write #writer #writersofig #writersofinstagram #writercommunity #writerscommunity #writers #blog #blogging #blogger #bloggers #edit #editor #ladyboss #bosslady #girlboss #smallbusiness #creativebusiness #smallbiz #creative #creativewriting #creativebiz #mycreativebiz #brisbanesmallbusiness
Passive voice is useful in so many situations—for example, if you want to deflect blame, or if you’re trying not to be accusatory. However, usually active voice is better because it’s easier for readers to digest and helps you to be concise.
Another simple way to make your writing more professional is to stop being so wordy. Wordiness makes writing weak and it may make your writing harder to understand. If you can write your sentence with fewer, simpler words, then you should. Not every sentence needs to be cut down to its most simple form, but you should try to avoid unnecessary words and phrases.
Look out for three types of wordiness in your writing: verbosity, redundancy, and superfluity.
Verbosity is when you use lots of words where fewer words would work, or complex words in the place of simple words.
Superfluity is using unnecessary extra words.
Redundancy is using a word or phrase that doesn’t add anything to the sentence—it could be removed without loss of meaning. Usually redundancy when you’re using a word that means the same thing as another word in the sentence.
This is another one I used to find tricky to fix, until I learnt the by zombies tip (passive voice and nominalisations often hang out together). Getting rid of nominalisations will make your writing much more professional.
Nominalisations occur when verbs or adjectives are turned into nouns (a process that often makes the sentence passive, as well—doubly difficult to read). In professional writing, nominalising verbs is common because it makes writing sound 'smarter'.
As you can see in the above example, sometimes nominalisations are necessary. In this case, appointment couldn't easily be changed.
Nominalisations bring a host of problems with them and are often a sign that you’ve got some fixing to do. Using nominalisations in your writing often introduces wordiness, as more words are needed to express your idea. Nominalisations are also often partnered with passive voice. Nominalisations, wordiness, and passive voice can all usually be fixed by making the sentence active instead of passive.
Booting these nasty, unnecessary guys from your sentence will make your writing more professional—plus, it’s usually pretty easy to find and remove them. An expletive construction is a phrase, usually at the beginning of a sentence, that is empty and doesn’t really do anything or mean anything—it just introduces what’s coming next. While sometimes it’s impossible to get rid of expletive constructions, if you can remove them, your writing will be much stronger. Expletive construction phrases include there is, there are, and it is.
You can remove expletive constructions by jiggling your sentence around a little bit.
Subject–verb agreement is a simple rule, so getting it wrong can be embarrassing, especially when it can be picked up with a quick proofread.
A subject is a person or thing, while a verb is an action word (commonly referred to in primary school as a doing word). The subject is the person or thing doing the action described by the verb.
Subjects and verbs can be plural or singular.
A singular subject must be paired with a singular verb, and a plural subject must be paired with a plural verb.
If the subject is close to the verb, like in the examples above, it’s easier to tell if there is a problem with the subject–verb agreement. If the subject isn’t close to the verb, like in the example below, figuring out whether the subject and the verb agree can be harder.
To fix this, find the subject and the verb in the sentence. Circle them or highlight them if that makes it easier. Next, determine whether the subject is plural or singular. Then you can decide whether the verb agrees with the subject. Remember: A singular subject matches with a singular verb, and a plural subject matches with a plural verb.
Note: If the sentence contains a compound subject, then the verb must still match the subject; i.e., singular subjects in a compound subject match with a singular verb, etc.
Weasel words are often used intentionally to mislead the reader. However, even if you’re not intentionally using them, weasel words can often slip into your writing.
Weasel words burrow their way into a sentence, making the sentence weak, misleading, and vague. Basically (one of the worst weasel words!), when you’re using weasel words, you’re not saying what you really mean, or you’re padding the meaning to make it less direct. Politicians often use weasel words to soften the blow of possibly controversial or unpopular statements.
While weasel words may be useful for politicians, using them in your writing, and especially in professional documents, can make your writing sound weak and may lead a reader to mistrust you. Watch out for some of these weasel words in your writing:
- weak adverbs (e.g., actually, practically)
- passive voice to avoid identifying an authority (e.g., it is said)
- numerically vague expressions (e.g., most people, many women, some say)
- euphemisms (e.g., making changes instead of firing staff).
Three key ways to avoid using weasel words are to attribute a source to your statement, to use facts instead of opinions, and to read through your writing and remove anything that’s weakening your message or not adding meaning.
Removing weasel words from your writing is a lot easier when you know which ones you use often. For example, I use actually a lot. Because I’m aware of that, I can watch for it in my writing, and even include it in my proofreading checklist.
Noun strings sound weird, but once you learn what they are, you’ll be able to spot them and fix them. A noun string is a series of nouns (or other types of words) that modifies the final noun in a sentence.
A short noun string may be easy to understand if read by someone knowledgeable of the subject. However, noun strings become difficult to read when they are longer than three words, especially when the reader is not familiar with the subject. Because longer noun strings (more than three words) are harder to understand or decipher, they should be shortened or avoided in order to maintain clarity in your writing. Even if you have to make the sentence longer to remove the noun string, usually it’s the best way to ensure your reader will understand what you’re saying.
You can ask yourself these questions when trying to fix a noun string:
1. Can you remove any unnecessary nouns?
2. Can you change any of the nouns to verbs or adjectives?
Jargon is vocabulary that may be difficult for your reader to understand because it relates specifically to certain trades or professions. For example, political jargon includes terms such as left wing, right wing, and backbencher.
While jargon is sometimes necessary with the appropriate audience (i.e., medical jargon with medical professionals), it can make other audiences feel excluded and make your document difficult to understand. While understanding your audience will help you to avoid using inappropriate language, generally you should try to avoid jargon.
The best way to avoid jargon is to simplify your writing, which will increase clarity and, as a result, the reader’s understanding of the text. For example, try taking some jargon and changing it to a word that is more commonly understood.
If you’re having trouble figuring out whether you're using inappropriate jargon, try to look at it from your ideal reader’s point of view. What will they know already?
Understanding parallel structure will improve your writing a lot. Parallel structure is an identical pattern of grammatical elements within sentences, headings, and lists. It helps readers to understand connected ideas and makes your writing flow better.
Some sentences contain more than one idea or thought. In this instance, a conjunction is necessary. Ideas on both sides of the conjunction must contain the same structural elements. This creates parallel structure. Examples include pairing noun with noun, clause with clause, or phrase with phrase.
Use parallel structure to organise items in a list. Each element of the list should be structured the same way.
Each item in a bullet-point list should start with the same grammatical element. That is, all items should be started with the same type of word and should follow the same structure.
Parallel structure is also important in headings to maintain consistency. Heading structure might be noun phrases or they might be in the form of instructions to the reader.
Comma splices may have their place in creative writing, poetry, or even speeches that attempt to emulate spoken language (e.g., I came, I saw, I conquered), but they are generally considered errors in professional writing.
A comma splice is when a comma joins two independent clauses (two separate sentences).
There are four ways to fix a comma splice:
1. Insert a full stop, colon, semicolon, or dash in place of the comma.
2. Use a coordinating conjunction after the comma (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
3. Make one of the clauses dependent on the other by joining them with a conjunction.
4. Use a semicolon and a conjunction.
I hope this guide has helped to open your eyes to ten simple ways that you can improve your professional writing. If you can focus on these things and learn to pick them up in your writing, you will see the improvement.
@@The creative thinkers' guide to improving your writing@@