Tuesday, September 28, 2010

21 Tips for Great Writing - Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Part 2 of 21 tips for Great Writing! In Part 1, I discussed the first 7 tips to keep in mind when you are writing, including relevancy, punctuation, audience awareness, active voice, getting to the point quickly, and starting and ending with a bang. The next 7 tips will provide you with more guidelines to keep your writing dynamic and on track. Try them out and let me know what you think, and if I've missed any tips either here or in my Part 3 post later this week, add your own in the comments.

8. Be Concise, or Have a Good Reason Not to Be
One of the most confusing experiences for readers there is, is to get some information about a topic when it is first introduced, and then to get similar or related information a few paragraphs later, as if it were the first time the topic had been mentioned. In the recent book I edited, there were quite a few places where information was repeated or restated in a slightly different way a few pages later, for no purpose. So, in your writing, try and say what you mean is as few words as possible. In other words, make your language work the hardest for you that it can. Note that with copywriting and marketing copy, you might be slightly less concise because you are trying to make a point with your customers or potential audience. You might, for example, write "free bonus," or "launching for the first time," or "rock bottom low price," just for emphasis, and to create a sense of urgency with your readers. That is fine, but should be kept to offers and promotions and used sparingly.

9. Use Sensory and Specific Details
Whenever you are describing something - an object or a person or an event - try to use the most vibrant details that you can, so that you are evoking concrete images in the mind of your readers. Look at the difference between these two sentences:
*He walked slowly down the street
vs.
He walked so slowly down the street, it was as if his feet were layered with molasses. 
Note that the use of similes and metaphors can help out a lot with this, and I'll cover these shortly.


10. Vary Sentence Length. 
I once had an article I had written edited for publication so that each sentence was the same length, and had been significantly shortened. I never understood why this was done, as it created a monotonous feel to the copy that the original did not have, since I had deliberately varied the sentence length. After you write your first draft, review your text to see where you might connect two sentences into one, or where you might make one longer sentence into two. If you're not sure about the sentence length, try reading your copy out loud. If you notice you are feeling out of breath, or that you are reading for too long, the sentence probably needs to be cut down.

11. Avoid Jargon and Cliches
Phrases like, "it rained like cats and dogs," or  "they sailed off into the sunset," are cliches and should be avoided. Try and use phrases that are unique and that you have not read or heard of before, to keep your writing fresh and original. Don't necessarily choose the first phrase or description that comes to mind, but make a mental or written list and use the phrase that shines the most.

12.  Breaking Up's Not Hard To Do

Copy that goes on for longer than a few paragraphs needs to be broken up visually, so it will be easier for the reader to absorb. You can use subheads for this, or in the case of a newsletter or magazine article, pull quotes from interesting passages of your piece. Bullets and numbered lists work well to break up text, and some bloggers use colored boxes or rules to separate sections of longer blog posts.
 

13. Create a Sense of Urgency/Immediacy
Much of the great writing I have read lately has a sense of urgency about it. Even though it feels like the writer may have dashed if off just before flying out the door, chances are he or she spent some time crafting the piece so it felt just that way. One way to create urgency is to use the present tense, and/or to tell a compelling story that readers just have to finish. Think of your topic as a mystery that needs to be solved, and you are leaving little details that are creating reader interest along the way. Another technique is to surprise readers by telling them the opposite of what they think they are going to read, or the opposite of what they might be thinking, given what your title suggests. Yet another technique is to use action verbs frequently, that keep the reader moving along with you.

14. Have a Point of View
Unless you are writing a fact sheet, news story, or a business document with defined content and scope, you should be expressing a point of view and voice. Blogs, for example, are all about your point of view, as they are part of branding your business. No one else writes, speakers, or thinks like you, therefore your writing is your unique tool.  Not only that, but your readers and audience expect you t have a point of view in your writing, and sooner or later they will also expect you to make an offer -- buy a product, attend an event, etc. If you are doing your job, you will make your case well.


So, that wraps up Part 2 and tips #8-14. Stay tuned for Part 3 later on this week, and my special announcement of a bonus prize that will be revealed there. In the meantime, good luck on your writing projects, and let me know here how they are going.








2 comments:

Lisbeth Tanz said...

Carrie - 7 more great tips! The sentence length tip is one I probably wouldn't have thought of, but makes a lot of sense! It must have taken a lot of work to make each sentence the same length - far more than allowing the story to flow naturally.

Can't wait to read #8-14!

caroline jaffe-pickett said...

Thanks Lisbeth, glad you are enjoying the tips. The sentence length is indeed something I started to notice when that incident with my first edited article happened, and then later on I noticed that experienced writers varied the length. I think after a while it happens naturally, too, if you are writing in a conversational style. Hope you enjoy the next set of tips!