No matter what industry you’re in, everyone can benefit professionally from improving their writing style. This can refer to fixing basic grammar mistakes, eliminating the passive voice (something I struggle with quite a bit), or learning to leverage the power of narrative to get your point across.

Admittedly, I am not the strongest writer so I’m always excited to pick up quick tips to improve my written communication. Here are 3 tips from some pretty smart folks that have helped me along the way.

1. Write Less

This one comes from someone in the SEO industry I have admired and respected for many years. John Doherty, Online Marketing Manager at HotPads (from Zillow), shared this tip over a year ago that I still refer back to almost every day:

write less

To go even another step further… “write less!” Especially in business communications, the fewer words you need to get your point across the more powerful your overall message will be. Think of your words as money; you want to spend the least amount of money on your product to get the highest return.

2. “Just” Don’t Use It

Hat tip to the wonderful Sarah Lively from Marketing Atlanta for this gem. Words like “just” and “actually” are often used as crutch words that compromise the strength of your message by trivializing your key points. The great part is you don’t have to drastically change your style, you can simply remove these crutch words and still make the same point. Consider the following examples, which is more powerful?

I just wanted to confirm you received the contract.

I wanted to confirm you received the contract.

The same principle also applies to “actually” in most cases (some great examples in this post from Carolyn over at Buffer). Next time you feel compelled to use these crutch words, consider the sentence without them and you’ll see how much cleaner it reads.

3. Remove Unnecessary Phrases “In Order to” Write Better

This one is arguably my favorite grammar trick I’ve learned in the past few years, courtesy of my lovely wife. One of my most over-used phrases for years was “in order to.” In order to get a point across, I would always use “in order to.” It seemed logical, like the previous sentence, to introduce the purpose for my comment. It validated the sentence and illustrated to the reader why it is important. One day, Anne was reviewing a blog post for me and pointed out that, similar to “just” and “actually,” you don’t need “in order” to get your point across. Let’s consider another example:

In order to write better, be conscious of superfluous language.

To write better, be conscious of superfluous language.

Over the past year or more, I’ve applied this thinking to every piece of writing I’ve produced. And you know what? I’ve yet to find an instance when “in order to” actually makes my writing stronger! It is a wholly superfluous phrase and as part of my ongoing initiative to “write less” and become a better writer, “in order to” has been completely eliminated from my vocabulary.

Have any other quick writing tips that have made you a better writer? I’d love to hear them!

 

One Response to 3 Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing in 5 Minutes or Less

  1. Evan says:

    Word choice is a big one. Don’t always settle for the first verb or adjective that comes to mind. For example, “Very” is one of my least favorite words because it’s weak and people tend to use it way too often.

    We know “very hot” is hotter than just plain old hot, but it doesn’t really communicate any sort of magnitude. It’s not evocative. Is the thing scalding? Boiling? Searing? Blisteringly hot?

    It’s an easy exercise to go back through your writing and replace “very”, “a lot”, “goes”, “has”, etc with words that paint a stronger picture.

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