How to write better — in 6 minutes

Your happiness is governed by your ability to persuade.

Persuade your boss. Persuade your partners — business or domestic. Persuade those who work for you.

If you can’t persuade others to do what you want you end up doing what they want.

And that’s no fun.

But if you can’t write you can’t persuade.

Yet most people — especially business people — can’t write for toffee.

Can you spare 6 minutes to pick up what I learned the hard way since I started writing for a living 60 years ago?

First, follow the rules George Orwell gave in his essay, “Politics and the English Language”

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(e.g.) “At the end of the day” rather than “in the end”; “Put it to the acid test” rather than “test thoroughly”.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(e.g.) “ buy “ rather than “ Purchase “; “ wrote” rather than “ authored “, “changed, not “transitioned”.

3. If you can cut a word out, always do.

(e.g.) “Miss out on” should be “miss”; “male personnel” should be “men”; “for free” is free; “On a daily basis” is daily.

4. Never use the passive if you can use the active.

The Bible story: “Abel was slain by Cain” becomes “Cain slew Abel”.

Or, from a report, “We are concerned that should this recommendation be turned down, the charity’s revenues will be adversely affected” should be “We believe you must act on this recommendation to maintain the charity’s revenues”

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

“Interface” or “Reach out to” is better as “talk to”; “your core competences” are “what you do best”.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Here are other rules, many formulated by Rudolph Flesch, who spent years in the 1940’s researching what makes writing easier to read.

The simplest is, make your sentences as short as possible. The easiest sentence to read is eight words long.

Any sentence longer than 32 words is hard for people to take in. Since most people are lazy, not concentrating or plain stupid, they tend to forget the beginning of the sentence by the time they get to the end.

The same principle applies to paragraphs. Make them short, especially the first.

If you read a writer like Hemingway you will see his words, sentences and paragraphs are remarkably short. In any piece of popular fiction or a popular newspaper, this is true. They are written for people who are not clever, or not concentrating.

A gizmo on Microsoft word based on Flesch’s research gives you a readability rating.

Want to know more? I have a free video called How to Write and Persuade. Drop me a line, saying “I want to write better”.


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