content writing tips

8 Quick and Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing

woman giving thumbs up for improving your writing
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Do you write web content? Short stories? Novels? Essays? Whatever realm of prose your work falls into, there is always room for improvement in your writing. I include myself in that statement! I’m always open to constructive feedback. In fact, I often find that I am guilty of not following the tips that I’m about to offer. Maybe the very act of writing this blog post will spur me to shape up my word-weaving. Let’s talk about some simple and quick ways in which we can improve the quality of our writing.

User Fewer “ly” Adverbs

Adverbs that end in “ly” offer a high level of convenience. They let you modify verbs to paint a clearer picture in your readers’ minds. However, using too many of them can ruin the rhythm of your prose and bog it down with unnecessary words. In many cases, you can swap out an adverb and an ordinary verb for a stronger verb. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of saying walk slowly, say stroll
  • Instead of saying laugh quietly, say chuckle or chortle
  • Instead of saying suddenly gasp, say gasp (Ever heard of a gradual gasp? Nope. Gasps are sudden by definition.)

Remember that “Very” Is Very Overused

While we’re on the subject of adverbs, let’s talk about “very.” It is one of the most overused words in the English language, which means that it has lost much of its impact. In most cases, you can slice it out of your content altogether and improve the quality of your writing without sacrificing any meaning. You can also swap out phrases that begin with “very” for words that have a little more spark to them. For example,

  • Instead of saying very hard, say difficult
  • Instead of saying very funny, say hilarious
  • Instead of saying very cute, say adorable

Read It Out Loud

Reading your work out loud is one of the best ways to catch errors that you would otherwise miss. It engages more of your senses and helps you improve the flow of your writing. It can also help you identify the overall voice of your content. For example, reading out loud might reveal that your tone is more formal, more casual, or more long-winded than you originally intended.

When in Doubt, Simplify

A few decades ago, before we turned to the internet for everything, readers had a higher tolerance for long sentences, long paragraphs, and fancy words. Now, attention spans are shorter and you must cater to that fact. It’s best to stick with vocabulary that an average eighth-grader could understand.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Maybe you are writing a novel and want to imitate some great authors of old, or maybe you are writing something academic that requires a lot of technical verbiage. Use your discretion and write to your intended audience.

Reduce Your Use of Passive Voice

When I was in school, one of my English teachers held a funeral for what she called “dead verbs.” Those verbs were:

  • Am
  • Is
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Any verb ending in “ing”

As I look back on that, I realize now that part of her intention was to teach us about passive voice. While her method lacked precision (those words are useful for much more than passive sentences), it did help me to view some words as being “dead” — and writing should come alive.

Passive voice has its place, and in some cases, it’s necessary. Most of the time, however, you should keep a tight rein on how much you use it because it can kill your prose.

Cut the Fluff

It irks me every time I click on a link on social media that has an interesting headline and I find that the article it brings me to is “fluffy.” That is to say, it has too many words that say nothing of interest or value. Maybe the words are there because the writer was struggling to meet a certain word count. Maybe they’re there for keyword stuffing. Maybe they’re there because the writer didn’t take the time to ask himself (or herself) if he was being succinct enough.

It’s better to have a short, well-written piece of content than a long piece of content that is mostly fluff.

Ask for Feedback

A fresh pair of eyes can do remarkable things for your writing! Often, you can gain valuable insight even from people who do not know much about writing. They can tell you if it’s easy to read, if they wished you had included certain information, or if you have anything in your content that doesn’t make sense.

It’s also beneficial to team up with a professional writing coach who can help you refine your skills. (Pick me! Pick me!)

Wake Up Your Internal Editor

I have an aggressive internal editor. Whenever I read anything, I’m editing it in my head. I think things like, “That comma doesn’t belong there,” “He misused that word,” and “Yikes!” My internal editor can be a bit too sensitive sometimes, but I do value it because it helps me learn about mistakes I should avoid in my own writing. It also helps me to spot examples of excellence that I can strive to measure up to.

Here are some tips for benefiting fully from your internal editor:

  • When you read something that doesn’t sound quite right, look up any grammar or usage rules that might apply.
  • Think, “How could I write this better?”
  • Practice distinguishing between mechanical errors in writing and stylistic missteps. A mechanical error is something that any English word nerd would flag as being incorrect. A stylistic misstep (that’s a phrase I coined)is something that could be improved but isn’t technically incorrect.

And… there are my thoughts on a few quick and simple ways to improve your writing. Let me know what you think!

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