Good Writing Tips: Three Simple Tips for Good Writing
Good writing doesn’t have to be difficult! Try these three simple tips for clearer, more powerful writing.
Are you really in the active voice?
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. “Always use the active voice.” While we know that active voice is important, when we sit down to write something “important” like a press release or business memorandum, active voice goes out the window. It was never a good idea.
This is where it gets tricky. To avoid getting caught in the passive voice trap, writers resort to the nominal style, substituting nouns for verbs. Here’s a nominal style sentence taken directly from a current press release: “Under normal circumstances in our gastrointestinal system, there are many more ‘friendly’ bacteria than there are ‘bad’ bacteria.” But you know better. As an advocate for the active voice, he writes, “Normally, many more ‘friendly’ bacteria live in our gastrointestinal system than ‘bad’ bacteria.”
Most of today’s business writing uses a nominal or passive style, so using the active voice will take some work and can be fun at first. But when you master the technique, your words will stand out in a sea of boredom. Ready to practice? How would you rewrite this press release with an active voice?
“Since October is National Physical Therapy Awareness Month, expect the Nintendo Wiis to fly off the shelves.”
Eliminating the excess
Writing is simple. Review is the challenge. It’s easy to get too attached to our own words. But most good writers spend almost as much time reviewing their work as creating it. If you’re not making a habit of editing your writing, a good place to start is to cut through the excess by looking for three things: qualifiers, ‘it’, and unnecessary words.
Qualifiers are a fixture in our everyday speech. As a result, they slip into our writing. Qualifiers include words like kind, very, small, pretty, and something like. For example, “I am very confident in my decision.” When reviewing your writing, remove the qualifiers. They add nothing but volume.
The word “it” is rarely needed and is often overused. For example, “I know I made the right decision.” Do a search for “it” during the review process. You will find that it can be removed in almost all cases.
Other unnecessary words may be more difficult to identify, but they are just as important to eliminate. Cut out sentences with words to aid clarity and understanding. Consider that you have a gentle nature, the foreseeable future, and the story is strange. These phrases turn into he is kind, the future and the story is strange.
Put a stop to hyperbole
“Don’t use words that are too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you want to say ‘very’; otherwise, you won’t be left with words when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
– CS Lewis
Writers tend to exaggerate the case, especially when writing advertising copy. How often have you read about a “world class” company?
Even when writing promotional copy, take CS Lewis’s advice seriously. If your company is truly world-class, have the facts to back it up. And if not, don’t say so. Being ‘Twin Cities dry cleaners choose 2 to 1’ is much more compelling than being a ‘world-class dry cleaners’.