Where does bad writing come from and how can you fix it? Boring, frustrating writing comes from the mistaken belief that your reader is interested in what you have to say.
As a writer you think what you’re writing is fascinating; or you probably wouldn’t take the time to write it in the first place – but the reader? The reader is interested in one thing: Can what I’m reading help me?
Can it? If not, your writing has failed. Great writing is about communicating – if your reader doesn’t know immediately what you can teach them, they’ll go somewhere else. Get out of your own way – make your writing simple and get rid of everything that gets between your reader and what you can do for them.
1. Tell the reader the purpose of what they’re reading right away. Don’t be cute or try to build suspense. Make sure that the first thing they see is how reading your document can help them. Tell them what you’re going to do. Then do it. Then tell them that you did it.
2. Use active voice and simple sentence structure: Subject – Verb – Object. Make sure the reader knows exactly who did what to whom: He ate the sandwich not the sandwich was eaten by him. Write as though you were talking to a friend, not a professor.
3. Don’t use any adverbs and keep adjectives to an absolute minimum. The more words you use, the harder it will be for your reader to figure out what you’re talking about.
4. Re-use the same words and terms. Once your reader gets comfortable with a set of vocabulary, stick with it. Don’t make them guess if the gripping tool on page two is the same as the grasping tool on page three.
5. Read your work out loud and edit. If possible, get somebody else to read it out loud or listen. If something sounds strange, even if you can’t explain why, get rid of it. Trust your ear.
The secret to successful writing is generosity – write for your reader, not for yourself.
Nigel Fogden is an English teacher and writer with 24 by 5 Tech Comm, a technical writing company that specializes in fast, high-quality writing and editing. For more articles on writing, technology and business, sign up for the 24 by 5 Tech Comm Newsletter at http://www.24by5.com and stop by our blog at http://www.24by5.com/wordpress