10 Tips for Better Writing

Want to improve your writing? Here are 10 tips that will help you do just that. Whether you’re writing a PhD thesis, a blog post or a business report you’ll be able to up the quality of your work.

1. Put the document aside and come back to it later

Take a break. Close the Word doc and do something else for a while. When you return to writing or editing you’ll find that you’re more focused and more objective. Concentration is key, especially when editing and proofreading, and if you find your eyes start glazing over a bit it’s best to take a break.

Make sure you budget enough time so that you can properly edit.

2. Don’t write and edit at the same time

Write first and edit later. When you’re writing don’t worry about spelling or style. These things can be fixed up later during the editing process. Writing, especially writing first drafts, is all about getting ideas down on paper. You can shape and form these ideas later.

3. Don’t edit and edit and edit and edit and edit and…

Put the document down, son. We all know that feeling of never being quite satisfied with written work and constantly fiddling with it as a consequence. You have to let it go.

4. No clichés. They’re a fate worse than death

This one’s an oldie but a goodie. Editors get a bee in their bonnets about clichés and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll have a bone to pick with you if they spot any.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Blaze a new trail and avoid clichés.

5. Proofread on paper. Edit on the screen

It can be hard to catch our typos while reading on a screen. It’s best to do hardcore proofreading using a hard copy. Errors are easier to pick up.

6. Proofread footnotes too

If you’re working on a Masters or PhD thesis, don’t neglect your footnotes. Pay attention to format and style according to the relevant style guide. Also, try increasing the font size on your footnotes for proofreading purposes. It will make them easier to read.

7. Get rid of wordiness

Once you’ve finished a first draft, read it and ruthlessly cut any unnecessary words or phrases. Here are some common words or phrases that should be revised or just deleted:

  • ‘Due to the fact that’ — use’ because’
  • ‘For the purpose of’ — use ‘to + verb’
  • ‘In the even that’ — use ‘if’
  • ‘In order to’ — use ‘to’
  • ‘certainly’, ‘absolutely’, ‘definitely’, ‘completely’ — delete
  • ‘very’, ‘even’ ‘just’, ‘really’ — delete

8. Use short sentences

The only exception to this rule is if you’re David Foster Wallace. I guarantee you’re not so limit sentences to 15 to 20 words. The occasional long sentence is fine but don’t make a habit of it.

9. Make your writing specific

Instead of writing ‘John was a nice man’, tell the reader what it was about John that made him nice. Readers like concrete details and writing in generalities does not add a lot or engage the reader as much as specific facts.

10. Use headings

Headings are are key organisational tool, especially if you’re writing academic, non-fiction or business documents. No one wants to read a mass of text. Headings break up the document and give the reader an idea of what you’re going to talk about and where you’re going to talk about it.