To be successful in any profession, a man should be able to express himself precisely and concisely through the act of writing. A student can only fully understand a new concept when he is able to paraphrase it in his own words—otherwise he just merely repeats words said by others. Businessmen show their professionalism and gain trust via well-presented documents and papers. Men of letters exchange ideas through articles and books. Overall, writing shapes our thoughts and encourages us to examine every matter more deeply.
As someone who writes for a living, I have been asked many times to reveal the tricks of excellent writing. Truth is, there’s no such hard and fast rule in writing, as in business or mathematics. There are, however, a few guidelines to help you, well, express yourself precisely and concisely.
First and foremost, good writing must be free from grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors. These basics are too often overlooked, as most people don’t realise how a poorly punctuated paragraph (think double-space after a period!), or inconsistent word usage, can weaken your argument. For basic grammar rules, visit bit.ly/1FPTxis.
Secondly, get rid of big words, redundant words, and cliches. If you can convey your idea in fewer and simpler words without changing its specific meaning, do it. For example, you can neatly replace the phrase “in spite of the fact that” with just one word: “although.” Aim to express sophisticated ideas in simple sentences, rather than the other way around.
As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Thirdly, fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. That’s one thing journalism has taught me, and I can’t stress it enough, especially in the age of information overload. Most anecdotes shared on the Internet cannot be trusted, such as the rebirth of the eagle, the boiling frog, or quotes wrongly attributed to the Buddha, Steve Jobs or Einstein (except the one above!). So be wary whenever you want to use something you’ve just googled as an example in your writing.
Fourthly, establish a clear objective before you write. What do you want to achieve with your writing? Who’s going to read it? And what are you going to tell them? If possible, state it clearly within the first few sentences, so that people know what to expect at the end of your piece. Scholars call it a “thesis statement,” while it’s usually known to journalists as a “billboard paragraph.” Read more at bit.ly/1So6SEm.
Fifthly, give it time. Good ideas take time to ripen, and your writing can only be readworthy when you have something worth saying. When I first started in advertising, I had a hard time explaining to my business counterparts why it took me more than one day to “produce” a 500-word article.
Then one day, I came across a quote by Warren Buffett, “You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
Simple as that.
Photo by Trinh Le.