We find many people who can speak well but rarely do we find those who can write well. Therefore, writing is a great skill we all need to cultivate to improve our communicative competency. It is also a great career opportunity for skilled writers, as content writers are high in demand. In this article, I talk about ten things that every writer must keep in mind while writing.
Keep it Plain: There is a notion among the writers that they need to use some rare and uncommon words if they want to demonstrate their intellectual bent of mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your readers deserve clear communication in a plain language. You can reach a wider audience by using simple language as it enables readers to understand your writings easily.
For example, read the following sentence and try to comprehend it. Most people find it difficult to understand the sentence.
Singular specimen of the scientific class of avis contained within the boundaries of the upper prehensile, is equivalently valuable as a doubled inventory of that item located in a low-spreading thicket.
The same sentence can be written in a simple way as “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
Many organizations, including governments, promote the use of plain language. For example, when Barack Obama was the president of the United States, he signed a federal law that required all the government agencies to use plain language to communicate with the general public.
Write for Your Readers: Always keep your readers in mind while writing. If your target audience are professionals in a certain field, you can assume that they can easily understand the related jargon. For example, in a technical writing piece, you can use the term client, but when you write for ordinary users, you need to use the common word computer. In the same way, the term myocardial infarction can only be understood by health professionals, and therefore, the same could be conveyed by using the common word heart attack.
Be Concise: Every word used in a sentence serves a purpose. Therefore, you need to ensure that you don’t employ unnecessary expressions in your sentences that don’t serve any purpose. For example, you can just use ‘now’ in place of ‘at this point in time’. While editing your text, you need to purge the sentences of unnecessary words. The presence of unwanted words or expressions not only imposes a cognitive load on your readers but also wastes their time.
Avoid Repetition: Many writers tend to repeat the same idea multiple times in their writings. They remain oblivious to the repetitions till some reader points them out. As these repetitions conceal themselves under the garb of verbosity, they are difficult to detect in the first instance. They not only show a negative impact on the reader experience but also reduce the effectiveness of your writings. Therefore, as a writer, you need to make a conscious effort to avoid repetitions by rereading and re-editing your text before publishing it.
Edit and Re-edit: A writer takes less time to write but more time to edit his work. When a writer writes, he just gives a free flow to his thoughts without worrying much about the accuracy of the sentences. But when he edits, he needs to ensure proper spelling, punctuation, usage, flow, and meaning. As a writer, you must not feel satisfied with whatever you wrote. You need to edit and re-edit your text till it gets into good shape. Usage of spell checkers is a good practice as our naked eyes, howsoever experienced they are, deceive us, and as a result, the typos escape our scrutiny.
Don’t edit your text immediately after you write it. You may revisit your text after some time (may be after twelve or twenty-four hours) to edit it. By then, your mind gets refreshed to enable you to take a relook at your text with a different perspective. The fresh perspective empowers you to edit the text far more effectively.
Use Inverted Pyramid Style: In my school days, my teachers taught me to write an introduction first, followed by the body, and finally conclusion while composing an essay. It was a good arrangement in those days, as people did not face the problem of information overload and had plenty of time to read through long texts. But, in this age of information overload and microblogging, people are not patient enough to read through long texts. Therefore, a writer should include the most important message of his article in the first paragraph itself, and thereafter he needs to sustain readers’ interest by arranging the details in the rest of the paragraphs. Readers may lose their interest if they can’t figure out what the article is about at first glance. Such readers may leave the page in search of some other content that interests them.
Avoid Plagiarism: Plagiarism is an ethical lapse on the part of a writer. Copying someone else’s work and claiming it to be his own not only exposes a writer’s dishonesty but also pushes him into legal troubles. It may also attract disciplinary action from employers. Plagiarism is so pervasive that even the reputed journalists and authors are not immune to it. Therefore, a writer must ensure that he properly acknowledges his sources by including citations wherever needed.
Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-American journalist-cum-political commentator, faced plagiarism allegations after his article on gun control was found to be similar to another article published in The New Yorker. His employer, Time Magazine, suspended him for a week for the ethical lapse.
Use the Right Words: You write to express your thoughts and market your ideas. Using the right word at the right place is important if you want your text to convey the right message. Therefore, any wrong selection of words or putting them together in a wrong way invariably results in defective communication.
There are many usage guides that are available to master the English language. The most popular among them is A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, compiled by H. W. Fowler.
Keep it Search Engine Friendly: These days very few words are being printed on paper. Even the reputed newspapers are shutting down their print editions to limit themselves to digital publishing. As most of the content is published digitally, writers need to produce search engine-friendly content. Search engines crawl your content and index it before displaying it in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The SERPs, in turn, enable the readers to access your content. Therefore, using the right keywords in your article and giving it a good title are important to gain visibility in the digital arena.
Follow a Style: Writers need to follow a style to standardize their text and maintain consistency in their writings. There are many style guides available for the writers that include the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook used by media professionals and Microsoft Manual of Style used by technical writers. These style guides enable the writers to adopt the best practices in writing, making their articles more acceptable.
Though there are many writing style guides available, writers evince keen interest in the book, The Elements of Style, authored by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. The thin guide, which runs into 125 pages, was first published in 1920 and continues to be a standard style guide for authors of all levels.
As writing is a skill that is difficult to master, we need to practice on a regular basis. With practice, your writings become more meaningful and elegant, empowering you to attract more eyeballs.