When people ask me for tips on how they can become a better writer, the first thing I tell them is to write the way they speak.
That’s right. Forget everything that your high school English teachers and just write the way you speak. That’s the best way to create articles, letters, memo and reports that communicate your ideas clearly and in a way that reflects your voice.
Now, I am not saying you should just write the first thing that comes into your head and publish it that way. Of course not. After you get your first draft, you’ll have to go back and edit to clean up your language, make your writing grammatically correct and make sure that everything you write makes sense.
But while you are editing what you’ve written, don’t fall into the trap of trying to make yourself sound intelligent by adding a lot of adjectives and other descriptive phrases that usually just detract from what you are trying to say.
Remember that your goal is to communicate your ideas, not to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Write First, Edit Second
When you first sit down to write, your goal should be to just collect your thoughts. Don’t edit yourself as you write because there will be time for that later. Just get your thoughts onto the page as if you were speaking those ideas to a friend or associate.
One trick that may help is to speak what you want to say into a voice recorder and then transcribe your thoughts when you are done. Whether you complete your initial draft on a computer or with a recorder, don’t be concerned with grammar, word choice or anything else. You should only think about editing your work after you have captured your ideas.
Editing Comes Next
Now that you have your thoughts on a page, it’s time to go back and edit them for clarity. First, read through your words looking for any obvious errors and misspellings. Then take a second pass and make sure that everything you’ve said makes sense.
Look for any acronyms and industry-specific jargon. If you find any, spell out and explain what they mean. People who already know the jargon won’t be offended that you are helping newcomers to the field, and those who don’t know it will appreciate the help.
The final step of the editing process is to read your work out loud. Does it sound like you do when you speak? Or, have you added a lot of words and phrases you would never use when you talk. Make sure your written work sounds like you when you read it aloud.
Don’t Be A Slave To Grammar
Grammar is important but there are times when following the rules can make your writing sound stilted and stuffy. Try to stick to the rules of grammar as much as you can but when following the rules makes your writing sound awkward, feel free to ignore them.
Remember, Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put” in reply to someone who criticized his grammar choices.
One of the most common problems people have with writing is that they try to do too much. Don’t fall into that trap. Write the way you speak and you’ll have a much easier time writing in a way that communicates your ideas and that people can understand.