Tips for Writing Effectively

Have you ever picked up a paper, read it, and thought it was terrible? And then you realize it’s your own work? It happens to everyone. In fact, it’s part of the writing process. Here are some tips to make your own writing better.

First drafts are naturally not very good, for that’s what a first draft is for. But final drafts should not be.

So what’s wrong with most writing these days? Well, there’s a lot of jargon. Jargon means that there are words that are too technical, or too specific to a field, and the average person just wouldn’t understand. Another problem is that writing can easily become a jumbled, confusing mess. Just thinking and re-reading would help to eliminate most of these problems. Of course, grammar and spelling are always issues.

Writing 101 – The Ideas

What should you think about when writing? Three words: Audience is everything. Audience tells you what kind of attitude to write in, what type of writing style, how technical the paper can be, and so on. What kind of fonts should you use for your audience? Serif fonts are best for printed materials, and sans serif for computer reading. What kind of visuals are you going to include? Will the audience understand why you did what you did? Audience should be the first thing you think about when writing.

What else? Is it clear? Will the reader understand what you are talking about? Remember, everyone understands the same words differently, and maybe 60% of your own meaning is picked up by the reader. Be sure to explain, give examples, and eliminate confusing ideas.

Consistency. Consistency means that you use the same words over and over again. This doesn’t mean that you start every sentence with “However,” but it means that if you are naming an idea, you use the same name every time. Don’t call a “clock” a “timepiece” or a “time keeping device”. If you call it a clock once, keep it the same for the rest of the paper.

One idea that I picked up recently from my own writing courses was Parallel Structure. This is a little harder to explain, but easy to show. Take a look at list 1, and think about it:

Example list 1: Tables

  • Tables – flat.
  • Where people sit.
  • Brown.
  • A table is surrounded by chairs.

So what was wrong in list 1? No Parallel Structure. Now take a look at the revised list:

Example list 2: Tables

  • Tables are flat.
  • Tables are where people sit.
  • Tables are brown.
  • Tables are surrounded by chairs.

See the difference? Each idea has the same grammatical structure. The ideas are better presented using parallel structure and are emphasized just by organizing it properly. This applies to lists, phrases, and titles as well.

And that brings us to the next point: Organization. Effective writing uses organization to bring out what is important and obscure the less positive details. This means that paragraphs must have introductions and conclusions, remembering that the introduction and the conclusion get the most attention in a paper. White space should be used to break up the paper. Write the best stuff at the end, the second best stuff at the beginning, and the worst stuff in the middle. If you do this, then your papers will be more persuasive and much clearer.

Writing 102 – The Writing

Preparation is crucial to writing effectively. Depending on what you are writing, you may or may not want to include all of these items, but they will help in almost every case. Prewriting includes brainstorming, outlines, audience profiles, and all that other stuff. Before you put pen to paper, you need to be thinking about what you are going to write and how you are going to present it. The writing itself becomes easier once you’ve done your preparation. Then the actual writing begins, but that don’t think you’re done yet. You’ve got revision and editing to do.

In writing, I usually follow these steps.

  • Complete an audience profile. Basically, describe your audience. Write it down so you can refer to it later.
  • Make an outline. Outlines really help to keep ideas on track. Plus, you’ll have done some organization, so you will have an easier time writing as well. Remember, you can always change your outline if you decide something is unnecessary.
  • Check the facts (again). I try to do this after the outline to focus the ideas in my head. Is all the data necessary? Is anything unimportant or incorrect? Trim the useless stuff and focus on the good material.
  • Write a first or rough draft. This is not meant to be perfect. Get the ideas on paper and then go back to edit your work. With the computer, I tend to do a lot of revision while writing the draft, but remember that you’re just trying to get it done. Don’t worry too much about all that other stuff just yet.
  • Revise your work. When you’ve finished your draft, now’s the time to check for errors. I’m assuming that you did basic editing on your rough already. Grammar and spell checkers will help you, but the computer doesn’t catch everything. Read it and fix grammatical errors. Then revise. Revision is not about little things. Instead, you’re checking to make sure your paper makes sense. If it doesn’t, change it. Do the ideas connect? Are there transitions? Does it meet the criteria? Constantly critique your work and try to make it better.
  • Write the final draft. Your final may not be what you originally planned on creating, but it ends up much better once you’ve done prewriting and revision. In the end, you should be proud of your work because you’ve put time and effort into it.

Writing 201 – Moving On

Writing can be a difficult thing. By no means am I the best authority on writing, although I know something about it. You should try to take writing classes as much as possible. Writing is a vital skill for successful workers in today’s society. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know how to write. Along with writing, I suggest that you read as much as possible. Reading is the best way to learn new vocabulary and understand sentence structure. You’ll pick up useful idioms and clichés that you can learn to avoid. Best of all, by reading, you’ll develop better comprehension skills that you can also apply towards writing. In the end, no matter what style of writing you’ve formed, if you at least consider my ideas, you’ll be a better writer.