For those who know me well, I read a lot. Ramya developed the habit in me, I think. Be it The Harvard Business Review magazine, mainstream or unconventional insights, books of aspiring authors or established ones, or simple blog posts... I read everything.
One thing evident, though, about us amateur bloggers and authors is our quality of writing. Our language leaves a lot wanting. There is a glaring valley (the Grand Canyon in fact) between us and established writers.
As usual, I've been reading about it and pondering. Here are 5 tips I've come up with to improve our writing skills:
- Number of words: Keep your sentences below 12 words. When possible, make them really short. Research shows that a reader pays 100% attention to a sentence which comprises of 10 words. Thereafter, the reader’s attention span drops 10% per word. So if your sentence has 18 words, you've already lost your reader long back. Also avoid writing two or more sentences meaning the same thing. I remember reading a short story which went like ‘I was apoplectic. I was annoyed. I was hopping mad. My anger knew no bounds.’ OK, we get it. You were angry. But you don’t need to write 4 sentences to state the same thing, do you?
- Active Voice: Write in active voice. We Indians especially have the habit of adding the gerund (‘ing’) to our verbs. Constructing (see, I just did it) a sentence in active voice takes care of that concern. Also, it shortens your sentence. Writing in active voice significantly reduces the size of your post, allowing you to pack more content.
- Reduce adverbs: As far as possible, get rid of adverbs like ‘a little’, ‘very’ and the likes. There is no person who is ‘a little’ sad – he’s sad. No person is very humble – are you indicating that he’s more humble than a humble person by using the term ‘very’? Brian Clark (of Copyblogger) goes to the extent of asking us to replace each adverb with damn. If you can skip using damn before the verb or noun, then you can make do without the words it replaces. There is no difference in a person being polite and very polite. If he’s very polite, you can probably use ‘submissive’.
- Simple language: Using the word ‘coquette’ when you mean flirt or ‘agnostic’ in place of cynic will make few readers revere you. Most won’t enjoy opening a dictionary along with your post/book. Simple words which people can understand are easily accepted. Remember, a person thinks in images and pictures; not words. When she reads, you want her to create the image in her mind which you have sketched. And that can be done by using simple, yet effective words. Also, refrain from ambiguous sentences. Make sure your matter tells the reader exactly what you want to say.
- Grammar is King: No! Not content, grammar is king. Grammar comes first, then content. Nothing turns readers off more than poor grammar. Not knowing the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, ‘there’ or ‘their’ or missing out on pronouns like ‘a, the, an’ really puts readers off. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer/blogger, make sure your grammar rules are in place. This point doesn't need elaboration, does it?