Writing is hard work. It’s your job to string together words in such a way that readers will effortlessly understand your meaning.
If you’re writing a novel or poem, of course, you can break the rules and indulge in strange twists of phrase. But if you want to write a crisp blog post, persuade someone to buy your product, or explain how to do something step-by-step, your writing must be crystal clear. In fact, clarity is your #1 job, no matter what you’re writing.
There’s no formula for writing clearly, but there are techniques you can use to improve your prose. Below, I list seven tips for making your writing simple and direct.
1. Put the reader first.
Your purpose is to communicate, not to show off your writing prowess. Words are the medium you use to transport the meaning in your head to the head of another person. You must ask yourself, “Who will read this?” Picture a real person and write directly to him or her.
2. Organize your thoughts.
You don’t need a detailed outline for most writing. If you’re comfortable with the sort of outline you learned in school, use it. Generally, all you need is to jot down the important points you want to make, and arrange them in the order you want to make them.
3. Use short paragraphs.
Look at any newspaper and notice how short the paragraphs are. That’s done to make reading easier and faster, since our brains take in information better when it’s broken into little chunks. Short paragraphs also look easier and less intimidating.
4. Use short sentences.
You should keep sentences short for the same reason you keep paragraphs short: it’s easier to read and understand. Each sentence should have one idea. More than that, and your reader may get confused.
5. Use simple words.
Since your purpose is to communicate, simple words work better than big ones. Write “get” instead of “procure.” Write “use” rather than “utilize.” Use longer words only if your meaning is so specific that there is no simpler alternative.
6. Be specific.
Don’t write “adverse weather conditions will not result in structural degradation.” Just write “the roof won’t leak if it rains.” Get to the point. Say what you mean.
7. Write in a conversational style.
Don’t try too hard to sound educated or witty. Although you need to use good grammar and observe usage conventions, you should write in a way that comes naturally. Think of writing as a casual conversation between friends.
Do these tips sound familiar?
They should. William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White summarized essential tips such as these in The Elements of Style (Original Edition)
It is the quintessential writing guide for simple, clear writing. Read it. Then read it again. Its message is as clear as its prose: Cut the fat. Keep it simple. Say what you mean.
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