Writing is absolutely essential to modern life. From news stories, social media posts, and art to politics, academics, and business, few other skills (if any) are as important or influential as the capacity to express oneself clearly, intelligently, and convincingly via the written word. It’s no wonder, then, that the search phrase “How do I become a better writer?” currently fetches more than 51,000,000 results on Google. Unfortunately, much of the existing advice for improving one’s writing is either far too generic (e.g., “Write with your heart!”), too simplistic (e.g., “You need to write everyday!”), and/or flat-out mistaken (e.g., “Never write in the first person!”). In reaction to this, I’d like to humbly offer a detailed discussion of 5 specific strategies for becoming a better writer that actually work.
The State of Modern Writing
I’ve been writing professionally for more than 15 years now.
Much of that time has been dedicated to academic and technical writing, including university essays, research papers, funding applications, and graduate school submissions.
More recently, I’ve been writing and editing web-based content for businesses operating in the corporate world, with a particular focus on content marketing, internet marketing, entrepreneurship, and startups.
(I currently work as a writer/editor at The Startup and as an editor at Appster.)
From academic authors, post-secondary students, and administrative bureaucrats to corporate clients, self-proclaimed content marketers, and everyday bloggers, I’ve come across a lot of writing over the past one and a half decades.
And whilst I’ve had the pleasure of reading and learning from the brilliant insights of countless exceptional writers — many of whom are exceedingly more talented than I am—I’ve also come to realize that there’s a huge amount of awful writing to be found in both print and digital media.
Especially within today’s unprecedented and exponentially increasing rates of content creation (giving rise to what Mark Shaefer calls “content shock”), there really is no shortage of seriously bad writing.
By “bad writing” I mean problems such as:
- Spelling, grammar, and syntax errors;
- Incomplete sentences;
- Improper formatting;
- Logical fallacies;
- Poor organization; and
- Lack of clarity and intelligibility.
Mounting data suggest that the writing skills of many Americans are inadequate at present and worsening over time.
For both school-age children (from grade school all the way up to college/university) and working-age adults, deficiency in written communication is becoming both more common and more pronounced (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
Reflecting on his experiences teaching undergraduate and graduate-level students at schools like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Verlyn Klinkenborg insists:
“[Students] can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. … But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no. That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based [are absent]”.
A 2016 article on inc.com reports that “blue chip businesses are spending as much as $3.1 billion on remedial writing training — annually. Of this budget, $2.9 billion [i]s spent on current employees — not new hires”.
Clearly, then, poor writing is not only intellectually impoverishing but also economically burdensome.
By no means am I the first to try and offer some potential solutions to the crisis of contemporary writing.
In fact, proposing one or more all-encompassing fixes is not actually what I hope to accomplish with this article (nor could I do so even if I were to try).
Rather, I wish to humbly discuss 5 specific strategies that I’ve used over the past 15 years to gradually cultivate and refine a set of writing skills that has allowed me to achieve success in academia and more recently in business.
Some of these methods are rather practical, straightforward, and likely to improve your writing relatively quickly; others are more conceptual or theoretical in nature.
The latter will require considerable effort on your part to learn and utilize, and might require many months if not years to give birth to noticeable changes in your writing.
(Note: I have laid out the different strategies in order of less to more practical, i.e., strategies 3, 4, and 5 are more practical and straightforward to apply than are strategies 1 and 2. Feel free to “jump around” the article as you see fit).
The 5 key strategies are:
- Studying philosophy to revolutionize your thinking;
- Creating comprehensive and highly detailed outlines for your projects;
- Emulating your favourite writers;
- Upgrading your vocabulary; and
- Enhancing your practical mastery of grammar, spelling, syntax, and citation systems.
Learning how to become a top-tier writer involves a tremendous amount of time, energy, work, and dedication.
Don’t let anybody try and convince you that a fountain of quick-and-easy shortcuts to perfecting your writing can be found.
Yes, there are minor tips and tricks that you can implement to slightly refine and enhance your skills here and there.
However, the real gains come after months and even years of dedicating yourself to practicing the kinds of intricate and experience-based strategies.
Read more at: The Writing Cooperative
Credit: The Writing Cooperative