Three more quick tips to improve your writing


Following on from some very nice feedback on my previous article, here are a few more pointers to help you become a better writer.

Use exclamation marks sparingly

In the Time magazine article, "You're Using Exclamation Points Too Much! Here's How to Stop", the author recounts when his friend wrote to him and said, “Almost all uses of exclamation points, other than in reported speech, should be punished by death, administered with broadsword.

I think the penalty ascribed here is slightly excessive, but I agree with the overall gist. You may feel that inserting an exclamation mark (or point) adds extra punch to a sentence, but it usually cheapens what you’re trying to say. You would never see one on Apple’s website.

If you want to add emphasis, try using a less expected word or simply bold it.

Elmore Leonard, author of "Get Shorty", had an excellent quota system that you should abide by: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

And if completely in doubt, please consult this excellent flow chart from HubSpot.

Resist the urge to sound clever

Mellifluous, apocryphal and cornucopia are some of my favourite words in the English language. But, as beautiful and ego boosting as they may look or feel, complex words can alienate your audience.

Copywriting is about communicating clearly – not showcasing your IQ or literary flair. So unless you’re Martin Amis or Hillary Mantel, I recommend using simple words.

Use “calm” instead of “equanimity”. Say “expert” rather than “cognoscenti”. No-one wants to be bombarded with words they don’t understand.

Make life easy for your reader.

Let Stephen Hawking check your prose

Typos. They can ruin a perfect sentence and make a writer look sloppy. But how do you stop mistakes from slipping through?

Firstly, it’s worth understanding why errors occur in the first place. And it’s to do with how the human mind works. According to psychologist Tom Stafford who studies typos at the University of Sheffield:  

When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

So don’t be too hard on yourself that an error found its way through. One handy way to proof your work is to run it through a text-to-voice program. It’s free and it only takes a minute.

It won’t sound like Stephen Fry’s honeyed tones, but any duplicated words, typos and autocorrect mishaps will stand out like a sore thumb.

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