by Barbara McNichol
Incremental learning makes a difference when you set any goal for yourself, including becoming a better writer.
Why would you desire to have better writing? To get hired or promoted, to attract more clients, to build your reputation and boost your book sales–to name only a few benefits.
Your action item: To reap these benefits, set aside time for 18 days to improve your writing, whether it’s for book chapters, reports, or sensitive emails.
In each of those days, you would study one of these easy, effective tips to hone your writing craft. Using them habitually, you’ll find you get better results and your confidence will grow. Any time you might spend in a writing WordShop (including those I offer) is reinforced by the ideas in this e-guide.
Your assurance: These practical, immediately usable tips have been compiled over years of editing nonfiction books and conducting business writing classes. You can feel assured writers have tested them thoroughly!
Your goal: Make a point of integrating a fresh tip into your writing every day. You’ll see how perfecting the communication loop through improved writing benefits your readers, your coworkers, you clients, and ultimately your career.
Your Key to Better Writing
This e-guide can be purchased for only $14.95. Click here to order. Use code 18DAYS to receive a $4.95 discount! Any questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you already worked with this e-guide? If so, please leave your comments here. How did it help you? Inquiring minds want to know!
by Barbara McNichol
To be a better writer, when should you stop using the word start?
Now. Good writing includes the ability to craft strong, clear statements. Extraneous words and phrases water down communications. An outstanding example of this is the overuse of the words “start” and “begin.”
Look at these examples of creating stronger statements by going straight to the key action verb rather than “beginning” to go for it.
Example 1: Slowly begin to approach your teammate with your idea.
Better: Slowly approach your teammate with your idea.
Example 2: Start making an agenda for the meeting.
Better: Make an agenda for the meeting.
True confession time: Do you ever overuse “start” and “begin”? Please don’t start!
I hope this tiny Pop Quiz gave you a BIG idea for tightening your writing. If that was helpful, there is more.
What if you had a program that could guarantee you would become a better writer, making you a more valuable, promotion-worthy professional?
Even if you’re doing well in your job, you can have more within your reach.
The Word Trippers Tips ADVANTAGE Program does all that—and for less than the cost of a night on the town.
Becoming a better writer doesn’t just happen. I challenge you to …
From tennis nut to word nerd and successful book editor, Barbara McNichol has built a career around her love of the English language. She can show you how great writing skills can help you get hired … win promotions … and build better working relationships. Reach her at email@example.com
by Barbara McNichol
Whether you’re writing an email, an article, a report, or a proposal, never leave your readers guessing what you really want.
Specifically, they shouldn’t have to wonder about these two critical components of communicating:
- Why have you told them this information?
- What are they are supposed to do with it?
It’s easy (and lazy) to say, “Give clear instructions and point readers to their next action.” But here’s a more concrete method.
Use a planning tool called Setting Your Objectives that echoes the traditional journalism basics: Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How.
Before you write the first sentence, answer each of these questions on paper as they apply to the written piece you’re crafting. The more detail the better . . .
WHO: Target Audience—Who will read this? What do you know about them already? Who will be affected by what your message says?
WHAT: Message or takeaway, including call to action—What do you want the reader to do, think, believe, or remember as a result of reading your piece? E.g., Attend this important meeting. Consider this point of view. Review this proposal. Refund my money.
WHY: Purpose and benefits—Why do the readers need this information? What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
WHEN & WHERE: Logistics—What details need to be spelled out? If it’s an event or meeting, specify the time, location and other essential facts.
HOW: Style and tone—How do you want your reader to “hear” you? E.g., polite, apologetic, excited, firm, demanding, laid back, urgent, or something else?
Once you’ve thought through all of these, it’s smooth sailing. Why? Because your brain has already included the critical points and especially the two we started with:
- WHY you have told them the information
- WHAT they’re supposed to do with it.
By consistently using the planning tool Setting Your Objectives, you’ll find you can craft your pieces more quickly and more completely every time.
How do you ensure your writing is communicating with your readers? Learn more at www.WordTrippers.com
By Barbara McNichol
Do you experience email overwhelm?
Your emails can present problems to your recipients when stale subject lines, too many topics, and lack of clarity get in the mix.
But this single time-wasting practice can be big: not making the most of your email message. It causes people to walk back and forth a dozen times on the communication path.
Build in Extra Thoughtfulness to Prevent Email Overwhelm
Well, a dozen times might be exaggerating but no matter what, you can streamline the process by building in extra thoughtfulness. Take the example of setting up something as simple as a meeting. Messages could go back and forth annoyingly before you nail an agreed-upon day/time/place.
Try crafting your initial email with an “if then” option. You’d simply write, “I’m available Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday in the afternoon after 3 p.m. If any of these don’t work for you, then give me three times when you’re available.”
Use the “If Then” Technique
The “if then” technique has just narrowed down the possibilities to three afternoons. Recipients know those times are off the table and will suggest a different three options. You’re likely to come up with a workable time/place in fewer than two emails.
Compose your emails to serve you as efficiently as possible. This “if then” approach is an easy path to follow.
Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping authors add power to their pen. An expert editor of nonfiction books, she has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent resources, including a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
What paths do you follow to deal with email overwhelm? Share you ideas here.
by Barbara McNichol
Whether it’s an email, a report, or a chapter in a book, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier to follow? What are ways to create a smooth flow that guides your readers?
Give these writing tips a try:
1. Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject and allow readers to find it quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.
2. Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you’d use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to distinguish each paragraph.
3. Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It helps the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: In a list, when the order of the points matters, use numbers; otherwise, use bullets.
4. Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string short sentences can feel disjointed. Add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers can follow the meaning more easily.
5. Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way, it might come across as monotonous. Along with varying sentence length, break out of the mold of standard sentence structure.
Practice these simple ways to make your writing easy to follow and enjoy better responses from your readers. Note YOUR favorite writing tips below or email me.
Check out all these phrases that add word clutter. Question their use every time. Do you need them in your writing?
What phrases would you add to this list? Share them here.
by Barbara McNichol
Ever wonder how to make your sentences less verbose and more direct?
Here’s a trick that works like magic: Change long nouns to short verbs.
Consider the differences in these three examples from a nonfiction manuscript I edited:
- “They remain in contradiction with themselves” vs. “They contradict themselves.”
- “He made an acknowledgment of her success” vs. “He acknowledged her success.”
- “We get closer to the implementation of leadership practices” vs. “We get closer to implementing leadership practices.”
Study these examples. They show how you can increase readability by turning a long-winded “heavy” phrase into an active “lively” verb. What clues do you look for? Nouns ending in “ion” and “ment.”
Whatever I’m editing, I’m using this “magic” trick dozens of times a day. What a difference this one technique can make! Try it for yourself.
Action: Identify “ion” and “ment” words in your writing, then rewrite them using a lively verb.
What techniques do you use to whack wordiness? Share them here.
by Barbara McNichol
Did you celebrate National Grammar Day on March 4th? I think it needs to be celebrated all year ’round especially when it comes to business writing.
Here’s why using proper grammar is important:
“Grammar is credibility. If you’re not taking care of the small things, people assume you’re not taking care of the big things.” — Amanda Sturgill, associate professor of communications at Elon University
What’s the best way to recognize Grammar Day? Spend extra effort to make sure your sentences, whether spoken or written, are grammatically correct.
How do you know what’s correct? Let me direct you to my colleague Kathleen Watson’s new reference book, Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor.
This week only, Kathleen is offering it in ebook form for only 99 cents, downloadable on Amazon. This special offer expires at midnight on March 8, so act now!
You can order the paperback version at any time. It’s available at:
This is one resource I use often and highly recommend!
by Barbara McNichol
No matter what your written message—a sensitive email, a report, a proposal, even chapters in a book—you aim to make it easy for readers to understand. But how can you ensure what you actually write is what you intended?
Ignore this question at your peril. No matter how busy you are or how quickly you want to advance your projects, slow down. When you rush to action, you risk having to redo, revise, and explain. That doesn’t save you time!
Turn These Writing Tips into Habits
What can you do improve the readability of your message as you write it? Turn the following five tips into strong habits:
- Write short words and limit the total number in a sentence. No more than 21 words per sentence is a good rule of thumb.
- Include one major point per paragraph and one major concept per chapter. Don’t try to do too much in either one.
- Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly so the strongest, most salient ones can stand out in a crowd.
- Break up large blocks of type with subheads—enough that readers can skim the subheads to quickly find what they’re looking for.
- Don’t change the point of view within a paragraph (e.g., switching from a “we” to “you” orientation). When you have to shift the viewpoint, start a new paragraph.
Always Proofread Your Written Message
Most important, always proofread your own message and, if possible, have a colleague check it, too. As you reread it, ask: “Is this exactly what I intended?” If not, rework it until you’re satisfied your message can be easily understood by others.
The benefit to you? You will save time in the long run.
What proofreading habits are most effective for you? Share them here.