Most people assume writing is a creative exercise best left to writers—people who can blow our minds with their words.
They’re both right and wrong.
Yes, writing is a creative exercise. But no, it’s not exclusive to authors and bloggers. Each of us plays the role of a writer in our daily lives.
As human beings, we communicate with each other in various ways. Communication is the act of rebuilding your ideas in someone’s mind while removing the obstacles from the way. When you send texts, emails, and business reports, you communicate. And a major portion of your workday goes into communicating through this medium.
How you write also creates an impression of you, just like how you dress and conduct yourself in meetings does.
Sloppy writing implies sloppy thinking. It wastes people’s time, builds barriers, and creates stalemates. Good writing provides clarity and removes ambiguity, helps you win friends and influence people, and makes you an asset who can get things done.
Is it any surprise that people who write well get paid better salaries?
But what does writing well entail? Does it involve long sentences, jargon- and adjective-bombing, and elaborate storytelling? Those would probably work if you want to pen a novel, but not if you want to make things progress.
Your readers at work are busy. They don’t have the time to read long, winding, and pointless sentences. They might politely put up with such communication in meetings.
But if you don’t get to the point quickly while writing, they’ll ignore you—just as you ignore pointless and rambling messages. This is why good writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.
Below are ten practical tips that helped me sharpen my writing (and thinking). I hope they help you too.
#1. Remove ‘very’ and ‘extremely.’
These words do nothing to strengthen your point. Instead, they make your writing wordy. What’s the difference between ‘tired’ and ‘very tired,’ or between ‘small’ and ‘very small’?
So here’s a rule. Each time you feel tempted to use ‘very’ or ‘extremely,’ use the word ‘damn.’ If your sentence makes sense without ‘damn,’ it’ll make sense without ‘very.’ You can also use adjectives to replace such phrases.
E.g. ‘I’m very tired’ becomes ‘I’m tired‘ or ‘I’m exhausted‘. ‘It’s a very small point’ becomes ‘it’s a tiny point.‘
#2 Delete the word ‘that.’
In 95 percent cases, you can remove ‘that’ without altering the meaning of the sentence.
E.g. “She promised me that she would be here,” becomes, “She promised me she‘d be here.”
#3. Delete phrases like ‘I think’ and ‘I feel.’
It’s clear what you write are your thoughts. Remove these phrases and shorten your sentences.
E.g. “I think that this is a good sentence,” becomes “This is a good sentence.”
#4. Fire “verb + ing” phrases.
While speaking, it’s natural to use phrases like “I will be going there” or “I will be attending the team lunch.” But while writing, you can make your sentences crisper by avoiding these phrases.
E.g. “I am going to call him at 11” becomes “I’ll call him at 11.” Likewise, “I will be attending the meeting,” becomes “I’ll attend the meeting.”
#5. Use more full-stops.
Long and winding sentences make readers lose the plot. They also make readers experience doubling, a phenomenon where they accidentally read the beginning of the same sentence when they try to move to the next line.
So each time you feel tempted to join two sentences with an “and” or a comma, add a full stop.
E.g. “I will email Ajay to share the document with me and I will schedule a meeting to discuss the moot point” becomes, “I’ll email Ajay to share the document. I’ll also schedule a meeting to discuss the moot point.”
#6. Passive voice has to be avoided.
That came out wrong. I meant, don’t write in passive voice. It creates wordy sentences, fuzzy action plans, and encourages passing the buck.
The UMass Donahue Institute’s report about the economics of hosting the 2024 Olympics in Boston is a great example. Here’s a snippet:
“[These] are issues that will need to be closely monitored in order to ensure the public sector is protected from extensive financial commitments.
To date, using insurance to protect a host city from cost overruns has not been used extensively.”
This is grammatically flawless. But it failed to address questions like who would monitor expenses and who would secure the hypothetical insurance? These and other uncertainties led the citizens and political leaders to reject an Olympic bid.
Active voice shortens sentences, addresses the point directly, and lets you mention who’s responsible for the action. Thus, it eliminates ambiguity.
Example: “The task which is lengthy can be completed tomorrow” becomes “you can complete the lengthy task tomorrow.”
#7. Slash wordy phrases.
Plenty of long phrases are the equivalent of “I’ll have dinner at night.” They do nothing but bulk your point and distract readers, Ali Mese highlights.
You can replace most multi-word phrases with simpler, smaller ones.
- In order to — to
- Due to the fact that — because
- On account of — because
- In the event that — if
- A large number of — many
- The vast majority of — most
- In spite of the fact that — although
- In most cases — often
- At the present moment — now
- During the course of — during
- In the midst of — amidst
- So as to — to
- After the fact that — after
#8. Avoid beginning a sentence with “there.”
This is another common drill that lengthens sentences and buries the main point. So, instead of beginning a sentence with “there,” flip it around.
Example: “There is a need for the systems and processes to be revised” changes to “We must revise our systems and processes.”
#9. Reverse sentences with relative pronouns.
These are words like ‘who,’ ‘whom,’ ‘that,’ ‘which,’ ‘where,’ and ‘whose.’ Like ‘there,’ they make sentences bulky and boring. You can often swap them for adjectives.
#10. Turn prepositions into adjectives.
You can also flip phrases beginning with words like ‘in’ and ‘of’ and add adjectives before the noun instead.
Example: “Employees in the Delhi branch” becomes “Delhi employees” or “the Delhi team.”
Leave the complex, jargon-laden writing to politically correct people who want to cover their backsides. Make your writing work as a sniper. Get in. Hit your mark. Get out.
When you do, people will stop trying to decode the China-logy behind your intentions. Instead, they’ll get to work on the goals you set.
The ability to get things done is the most valuable trait a knowledge-age worker can possess. Build it and you’ll get rewarded with a push up the corporate ladder or more customers for your entrepreneurial venture.
Did you find these tips useful? How do you make your writing crisper? Do leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.