Why are you writing?
When we write something like an email, an article, a blog post, or a story, there’s a reason.
We have a message we want to communicate with someone or to our specific crowd.
In the case of blog posts, articles, and stories (like on Medium), your writing might serve to voice an opinion, share an experience, to express yourself, teach something, entertain, or to persuade your audience.
Whatever your reasons for writing, there’s the expectation someone will actually read it. Let’s assume; in addition to wanting people to read it, you also want them to understand what you’ve written — otherwise, why bother writing it?
If you come across as confusing, unclear, or blathering, no one will care to finished reading anything you write.
This is where my tips come in today.
I’m offering to teach you how to bring clarity to your message, hone your writing skills, and bring a higher level of integrity to your communications.
It doesn’t matter whether you start from an outline, helping bring your scattered thoughts together, or you merely begin writing and flesh out your ideas as you go — you will eventually need these habits I’m offering.
You’ll learn ways to eliminate the clutter, tighten, and clean-up your writing — making it more easily understood. In this way, you come across more effectually and credibly.
Here are three practices you can use to improve the quality and understandability of your messages.
This is the act of reading through a written piece, looking for, and correcting errors — and it’s priceless. EVERYONE, Yes, I said Everyone needs to do this. To believe this isn’t necessary is arrogant and selfish, and it’ll make you look bad. Make time for it.
You could pay someone else to do it — but if they miss something, it could reflect poorly on you.
No matter who does the heavy lifting on this, the writer needs to be part of the process. However, inviting another pair of helpful eyes is always a good idea.
Proof-reading needs to happen throughout your writing process, but especially in the final stages.
Respecting your readers
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing or how good you are (or think you are) — you OWE proof-reading to your readers. Please have some respect for them.
Your readers are giving you the gift of their time and attention to read your piece. They deserve the respect from you — to polish your work and make it worth their while.
It can take several passes to hone and craft the message — and make it shine. Be prepared to do a lot of reading, correcting, and rereading — rearranging and rereading, repeatedly.
Quality takes time.
Selecting the RIGHT words
As you’re writing and editing, also be mindful of your word choices. Thoughts and words carry energy. Be sure you are choosing the correct word for what you mean, and how you intend to say it.
These tools will help you locate synonyms — selecting the utmost “right” words. This adds depth and richness to your work, enhancing how you come across. It’s ideal always to seek the best, most efficient, understandable way to deliver your message.
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
I’m all for jumping in, getting started, and taking actions within “perfect imperfection,” but give your audience your best efforts.
Remember, if you’re taking the time to write something, please give your readers and yourself the respect of proof-reading and editing. Your readers will appreciate it.
Editing goes hand-in-hand with proof-reading.
Using word processors
If someone helps you with editing, they’ll likely use the “Track Changes” and “Markup” functions in a word processor program like MS Word or Pages, or even Google Docs.
Writing in a word processor is one way to start your articles or stories before transferring them to Medium — especially if someone helps you with edits. Just be sure you are both working within the same platform — both on a Mac, or both within Windows.
What nightmares I could tell you about not doing so.
Use spell-check functions
Take advantage of any spell-checking functions which automatically direct you in the writing/editing software you write in. There are additional writing assistant apps and programs which are well worth having — I use one called Grammarly. I’ll write about them in an upcoming post — next week.
Sometimes I compose in MS Word, other times, within Medium. Although I recently learned of a writing/editing program called “Ulysses,” which I plan to check out soon.
Another pair of eyes can catch silly boo-boos
I occasionally send my drafts to a trusted writer friend for proof-reading — especially if I’m feeling tired 😫 or cross-eyed. 😳 Another set of eyes is always helpful.
In addition to looking for and correcting misspellings, wrong punctuations, misused or over-used words, typos, and incorrect grammar — you want to assure you have spaces where they belong and eliminate extra ones.
Remember, the thesaurus is your trusty friend. It helps you find other ways to say things — eliminating repetition. I can’t emphasize this enough.
Please, let’s get rid of That
Along the lines of avoiding repetitiveness, there are many excessive uses of the word “that.” It’s been going on for many decades, but it seems to be getting worse.
Go back and read a passage you’ve written. Every time you encounter the word “that,” reread the sentence — without “that.”
If the absence of “that” doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence, you don’t need it. Most of the time, you can do without it. This will feel odd at first, but you’ll get used to it.
Start noticing this in your everyday speech. You might be amazed. Work on eliminating “that” whenever you can, even when speaking. It’s like a little challenge — forcing you to come up with new ways to say things and stretch your thinking.
Sometimes, you can use the word “which” instead.
Another way to eliminate “that” is when referring to people or animals, use “who” instead. Give them the respect of not objectifying them (like a thing) by referring to them as “that.”
Example: “Go ask Joe. He’s the guy who takes care of the HR department.” Do you see how most people would have used “that” in this sentence twice? Instead, I used “who,” and I expressly referred to the department, not “. . . he takes care of that.”
“That” can be too non-specific and confusing. Don’t be lazy.
Example 2: “He rescued the cat who lives across the street.”
Eliminating all those “that’s” sometimes assists in reducing your word count.
3. Read it aloud
Once you’ve proof-read a few times and fixed everything you could find, this is your next step.
Read to the dog
Whether you read it out loud to yourself (while alone), or out loud to someone else — or even to the dog, this will help you catch all sorts of silly little mistakes.
Our brains have a peculiar way of filling in what we meant to say, instead of what’s on the page (or screen). Fix issues as you find them. Read it out loud again after each edit — ESPECIALLY before you send, post, or publish.
If my voice is tired, I use the “Speech” function within the Google Chrome browser, or in my word processor, to read it aloud for me.
You can’t tell the browser speech function where to start — and pausing it will cause it to start over (from the beginning — Ugh!) when you reengage. And it Reads. Every. Silly. Thing. Including photo credits and page directions — and it sometimes mispronounces words. You’ll need patience while it reads the extraneous items. Not perfect, but useable.
To find the speech function in the Chrome browser — Look in the browser’s top toolbar under “Edit.” In the dropdown list, near the bottom, is “Speech >.” Move right and select “Start Speaking.” While it’s speaking, go the same route to “Stop Speaking.”
Finding the speech function within MS Word (in versions I’ve used) in the Word toolbar, just above the words “Layout” and “References,” there is a funky capital “A” with sound waves to the right.
Click there to activate the speech function.
It will begin speaking wherever your cursor rests within the document.
You can pause and reinitiate this speech function and direct where and what this one reads.
As you can see, proof-reading, editing, and reading aloud are all interconnected aspects of polishing your written piece. They are worth the time you give to them, and readers will feel the difference you put into it.
A hurried, dashed-off piece makes you look careless, unprofessional, and unknowledgeable.
The more skillfully practiced your writing, the more credibly you come across. This goes a long way to helping your audience get to know you and like you. Your attention to detail can eventually engender their trust.
I hope these suggested practices will help you tighten and polish your writing for easier understandability and increased credibility. You can use them for all your writing and correspondence. I want your readers to appreciate your Light and gifts you have to offer the world. Shine On!
Stay positive. Breathe. Be good to yourself. Get outside for some fresh air as much as possible. Keep moving forward. Even baby-steps count!
Be kind to others. We’re all trying to do the best we know how to — with what we think we know at the time, and with the tools at our disposal.
Paula High-Young is a freelance holistic health and personal development copywriter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. She’s also fluent in holistic wellness coaching, herbal medicinals, Reiki, and essential oils. You can find her website at HolisticWellnessWriters.com and connect with her on LinkedIn, at Holistic Wellness Writers on Facebook, and sometimes on Twitter. You can also find her on Flickr.
Dictionary & Thesaurus
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