100 Little Ways You Can Dramatically Improve Your Writing

it’s not only students at online colleges for creative writing who need good writing skills. Solid writing skills open up career-boosting opportunities for professional writers and for those with aspirations beyond their basic job description. Journalists, fiction writers, scientists, teachers, business professionals, law students, and other professionals can all get ahead by inspiring and influencing others with their writing. Whether you’re an undergraduate wanting tips to organize your papers; a novelist who needs help with character development; or a technical writer in search of tips to write more engaging copy, here are 100 little ways all of you can dramatically improve your writing.

General

These writing tips will help you work on your writing habits and style each day.

  1. Keep a notebook handy: Carry around a little notebook so that you can write down ideas, great words, characters, observations and inspirations, whether you’re a fiction writer or nonfiction writer.
  2. Read more: Read authors, journalists and other writers you admire and notice the way they use language.
  3. Become a better listener: Understand what really motivates people by listening to them more and imitating their dialog and speech patterns in your writing.
  4. Simplify things for the reader: Instead of making concepts or events seem more complicated for your reader, aim to make them more simple through your writing.
  5. Remember your audience: Always have a very clear of who your audience is before writing.
  6. Write all the time: Write whenever you can, whether it’s a short story, a poem, an analysis of a play, or a column you send into the newspaper. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Trim everything down: Good writing is concise writing, so weed out wordy phrases whenever you can.
  8. Treat writing like it’s your job: Even if it is technically your job, the odd hours and free schedule can turn real writers into procrastinators. Treat it seriously, or you’ll never get anything done. You might even look into online colleges for English programs, to hone your skills.
  9. Keep it fun: At the same time, you shouldn’t take yourself or your skill too seriously: it’s okay to make mistakes during your brainstorming session or generate silly story ideas as practice.
  10. Tell a story: Even journalists can use the right kind of language and style to make a fact-based event read more like a story.
  11. Think before you write: Sometimes, just writing things down arbitrarily can help with brainstorming, but it also helps to have an organized idea of what you aim to communicate through your writing.
  12. Write on the go: Being able to write anywhere at any time if a valuable skill.

Grammar and Spelling

Tighten up your writing by paying careful attention to grammatical nuances, spelling errors and word usage.

  1. Always have perfect grammar: As Christopher Meeks points out, spelling and grammar mistakes are “the first things people will notice…Even if your writing is brilliant, if it has a lot of errors (not uncommon on the Web), then people think less of you.”
  2. Worry about spelling and grammar in your second draft: It’s okay to work with your natural flow and worry about spelling and grammar after you’ve gotten the ideas down on paper.
  3. Learn new words: Writing consultant Judy Rose encourages writers to check out all the synonyms when looking up a word in the dictionary.
  4. Never mistake sound-alike words: “Your” and “you’re;” “whose” and “who’s” are all sound-alike words that will make you look like an amateur if you confuse them.
  5. Review punctuation rules: Don’t know when to use a semi-colon or dash? Use this guide to help you straighten it out.
  6. Keep a dictionary handy: Keep an online dictionary or hard copy next to you when you write.
  7. Use the thesaurus: Some writers believe that if they couldn’t think up the word themselves, it’s cheating. But think of a thesaurus as a vocabulary lesson and an opportunity to explore new words.
  8. Don’t rely on spell-check: You may be using a correctly spelled word, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for the sentence.
  9. Use niche dictionaries and glossaries: Science dictionaries, medical glossaries, foreign language dictionaries and slang dictionaries will help your writing appear more accurate and authoritative. And, if these kind of details are especially interesting to you, don’t overlook programs offered by online colleges for library science.

Creative Writing

Fiction writers will find tips for better character development, scene writing, and story ideas here.

  1. Understand the four types of conflict: The four types of conflict are man vs. man; man vs. himself; man vs. society; and man vs. face, nature or circumstances of life. Identify the one that will be the center for your story. This proves helpful in general, but especially for those at online colleges for psychology, or even studying social work online.
  2. Use examples: Clarify an emotion or event by using tangible examples that readers can relate to.
  3. Don’t mix up your point-of-view: Your story’s point-of-view should remain consistent, so make sure you know all the nuances of perspective and point-of-view before you get lost in the story.
  4. Have a backstory: All of your characters need a backstory, and you need to have a specific outline written out to keep you straight all through your primary story.
  5. Reinvent old ideas: Just because a tragic story between star-crossed lovers has been written before doesn’t mean you can’t reinvent it based on your experiences and perspective.
  6. Research setting: Setting is extremely important to your story, so be prepared to visit a real-life version of what you’d like to write about, especially if you’ve never actually been there.
  7. “Show, don’t tell: Remembering this tip should help you create visual stories instead of dried-out narration.
  8. Identify the purpose of each scene: Write down in a clear sentence what needs to happen in a scene for the story to move forward, and then generate specific details like location, time and starting and end points, before filling in the middle parts.
  9. Use dialogue labels: Let dialogue propel the story, not your explanation of every thing that happens or the characters say.
  10. Work from prompts: Tools like this one can help you come up with an entire story or refine a scene.

Business and Technical Writing

Business and technical writers should remember to keep up with industry publications and news, use charts and bullets, and write simplistic articles and guides for a range of audiences. Online colleges for business administration will go into proper business writing more in-depth, but the following tips are some good ways to improve your writing immediately.

  1. Be curious: Curious writers commit to finding out everything they can about a particular subject, which strengthens their writing and reporting.
  2. Use bullet points: In technical writing, it’s okay to use bullets if you need to clarify a list or idea. Just make sure you use them only when necessary.
  3. Keep up with changing words: Word meaning changes over time, especially in technical and business settings, so make sure you’re keeping up.
  4. Write like a reporter: Stressing the “who,what, when, where and why” is most important to customers.
  5. Write for an international audience: When writing for international audiences, use simpler language and avoid idioms and other figurative language. This is of special interest to those at online colleges for foreign languages.
  6. Be careful with titles: Technical titles may be unfamiliar to you, but it’s very important to address people correctly.
  7. Use tangible examples: Help readers — especially if they are not experts in the field — understand what you’re writing by detailing tangible examples.
  8. Know the difference between being professional and formal: Keep your correspondence and your writings professional, but you don’t need to write as if you were generating a legal document.
  9. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: Consider what your readers are looking for when they turn to your article, manual or outline.
  10. Stay on top of trends: Read other publications and blogs to stay updated on the newest emerging trends, concepts, people and standards in your industry.
  11. Organize sources: Use proper documentation, and save links to or copies of your sources for back up.

Journalism

Whether you’re a rookie Jschool graduate or a veteran reporter, here are tips for strengthening your writing.

  1. Use smart headlines and titles: The better your headlines and titles, the more likely people will want to read them.
  2. Don’t make absolute predictions: Avoid absolute predictions, and remember that even if you’re confident in the outcome, “anything can happen” and “nothing has to happen.”
  3. Stop hedging: Copyblogger asks readers to stop hedging, or make allowances for every possible exception. It weakens your writing.
  4. Get off the Internet: It’s very important for journalists — even web reporters — to talk to actual people when conducting research.
  5. Learn shorthand: Shorthand is still around and can be especially helpful for journalists.
  6. Work with multimedia producers: Strengthen your writing by working with photo, video and online journalists.
  7. Start with meaning in your sentences: This guide recommends starting sentences with subjects and verbs, and then letting “weaker elements branch to the right.”
  8. Milk weird names: Weird names attract the reader and work for you by spicing up your sentences with minimal effort.
  9. Don’t ignore Twitter: Some journalists have a love-hate (or just hate-hate) relationship with Twitter, but it can be a useful tool for story ideas, finding sources, and staying on top of trending topics.

Writer’s Block and Inspiration

Get over writer’s block with these ideas for brainstorming, scheduling, organizing and more.

  1. Just start: When you feel overwhelmed or dried up, just start writing anything that comes into your head, and you’ll have a good starting point.
  2. Don’t wait for motivation: You can’t always sit around and wait for motivation to come to you. Write and revise every day.
  3. Take breaks: Sometimes, the only thing you need for a fresher start is a short break.
  4. Identify your purpose: Figure out why you’re writing, and start by explaining to the reader what your purpose is (ie: setting up an argument or asking for something).
  5. Set a personal deadline: If you procrastinate when you know your deadline is far off, set a personal one for yourself that makes you write on time.
  6. Don’t save ideas for later: Whenever you’re suddenly inspired, write down as much as you can to accurately capture the experience or emotions.
  7. Give each brainstorming session a theme: Focus your brainstorming and organizing sessions by giving each one a specific theme and goal.
  8. Try the 3-day writing method: On the first day, write in a stream of consciousness; on the second, refine your writing and fix grammar errors; on the third day, polish your writing with better adjectives and clearer sentences.
  9. Use the news and blogs as inspiration: To write about current topics that people want to read about, watch the news and read blogs for inspiration.
  10. Set up a writing routine: If you don’t make yourself write, you’ll always have an excuse ready. Pick a time every day to sit and write for a half hour at least.

Style

From simple sentences to cliches to experimentation, these style tips will turn you into the kind of writer that readers love.

  1. Write simply: Use the best words for communicating what you mean, and don’t pick words based on how long they are or how smart they sound.
  2. Don’t back into sentences: Johnny Kramer asks writers to be more direct early in the sentence instead of “backing into” their words.
  3. Avoid cliches: Here you’ll find a list of cliches and “worn-out” phrases to avoid in your writing.
  4. Play around with style: Even if you’ve already pin pointed your personal style, don’t be afraid to try new techniques with your writing.
  5. Avoid all caps: Use italics sparingly, and if you want your story to be more dramatic, work on word usage and sentence structure.
  6. Use active voice: Active voice makes your writing more direct and powerful.
  7. Know how to use repetition: When used correctly, repetition can add to your writing, but if overused, it’s irritating.
  8. Leave out adjectives: Adjectives can add a lot to a story, but for clearer writing, leave out unnecessary modifiers.
  9. Try to be conversational: Lifehack.org suggests adopting a more conversational tone when you write if you want to engage your readers.
  10. Be original: You can emulate others’ style up to a point, but a copied style is boring and borders on plagiarism.
  11. Use original similes and metaphors: This list of writing rules from George Orwell cautions writers against using figures of speech that have already been tried.

Composition and Organization

Get tips for outlining and understanding organizational structure here.

  1. Keep it short: To help you write simply and clearly, make a point to keep sentences and paragraphs short.
  2. Make — and remake — outlines: You can make outlines for every kind of story, report or column you’re writing. Revise your outlines as you add to your piece to make it easier on yourself.
  3. Clearly identify your theme: Before you start writing, give yourself 15 seconds to write down the main purpose of your piece, and stick to that theme.
  4. Use a template: Online article templates help you get started and avoid forgetting important elements.
  5. Make use of the writing process: Brainstorm, organize, support, rough draft, revise, rewrite, final draft: those are the steps in the writing process.
  6. Write a real conclusion: Your conclusion should depend on your purpose for writing: they can summarize, reinforce an idea, or tell a reader what to think.
  7. Pick an organizational structure: Different pieces use different organizational structure. Review this table to identify which one you’ll need to develop.
  8. Check for coherence: Each part of your piece should flow logically and in sequential order.

Revising and Editing

All writers need to revise their work, even if they have an editor. Here you’ll find tips for drafting, stripping, editing your work.

  1. Revise everything: No matter how terrific you think your writing is the first time, everyone’s writing improves after editing.
  2. Write the first draft for yourself: No one is going to see the first draft, so feel free to experiment, make mistakes, and really push yourself.
  3. Watch out for redundancy: While editing, highlight any words, phrases or paragraphs that are redundant, and delete them.
  4. Sleep on it: Don’t turn something in the second you finish the last sentence. Sleep on it, and check it for mistakes in the morning.
  5. Read your work out loud: It’s easier to catch mistakes when you read out loud.
  6. Eliminate everything that doesn’t have a purpose: Each word and punctuation mark should have a specific purpose for appearing in your piece.
  7. Ask someone else to read your work: If you don’t have a professional editor, ask a friend, teacher or fellow writer to read over your work before pitching or publishing it.
  8. Don’t be afraid to tackle large “out-of-control” projects: Read this guide to learn how to trim down sprawling, 700-page novels in just 20 steps.
  9. Don’t add to your piece: Unless you forgot an important piece of information, avoid adding words. It’s best to shorten your pieces.
  10. Know when to stop: Edit your work until it’s error-free, clear and seamless. Then stop and turn it in.

Computer and Web Tips

Web writers have a different type of audience to write for, and therefore, a unique set of standards to adhere to.

  1. Save: Some web applications save your work automatically, but it’s best to be in the habit of manually saving your work too.
  2. Use a headline formula: This guide highlights 10 headline formulas that will attract easily distracted readers.
  3. Write for active readers: The Internet is an active medium, so be sure to write for readers who are actively pursuing information.
  4. Use lists: Using lists in your posts draw readers in and let them know ahead of time how much time they need to invest in reading your piece.
  5. Write with the goal of engaging others in discussion: You may have to write with more edge and a well-defined opinion, but getting readers to respond and take over the discussion is your ultimate goal.
  6. Write for scanners: Web readers are scanners, so use short, simple sentences.
  7. Stick to one idea per paragraph: This technique makes it easy for readers to find information quickly.
  8. Use the inverted pyramid: Write what you’d normally save for the conclusion first, and stress the main point early on.
  9. Optimize your subtitles: If you’re worried about dumbing down your writing for the sake of SEO, focus on optimizing your subtitles, and then sparingly add in keywords to your text.
  10. Writer reader-centric posts: Web readers are selfish and expect pieces to help them directly. Write about yourself as infrequently as possible, and focus on what they want.

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