Guest post by Meryl K. Evans
The valet pulled up in my car. I thanked him, tipped him and entered my car. I noticed both turn signals were blinking. What’s up? It took me a minute to realize the valet had turned on the hazard lights. I didn’t even remember if I had ever used them in this car.
I touched every switch, button and stick searching for the toggle. Sure, I could dig for the instruction manual in the glove compartment, but I didn’t want to hold up the folks behind me. So I asked a nearby valet for help. Click. She pushed the button with the hazard icon above the touchscreen display. Color me embarrassed.
Despite this, I told my husband what happened. He said many people don’t know where to find the hazard light switch because there was no standard location for it. Well, I won’t forget next time.
If I read anything I wrote from five years ago, I flinch. I’m a better writer than I was five years ago. And I hope I’m better five years from now. Doing lots of reading and writing helped me grow as a writer.
Unlike with the hazard lights, I’ll pick up an instruction manual for writing to learn a few tricks. This would be any book on writing. The first memorable one I read was William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” Within 15 pages, I learned these four tips, which boosted my writing.
Why limit to four tips? Many articles provide a long list of tips. It’s so overwhelming that you don’t bother trying any. Keep it simple. Four is doable. And you can use them right now. Learn a handful of writing tricks at a time. Know them and nurture them. They’ll become a habit.
Trade Five Dollar Words for Cheap Ones
The first advice is to simplify. Zinsser covers it in one sentence: “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”
One sentence taught me to swap fancy words for simple ones, cut words ending in -ly and don’t be passive aggressive. Why opt for the snooty “utilize” when you can use the effortless “use?” And who needs the mind-numbing “numerous” when the four-lettered “many” works? Here, the Thesaurus is your friend.
Cut Very Unnecessary Words
Why not get to the point by cutting the underlined words? I blame the search engine optimization. People say online content needs to be more than 1,000 words for SEO’s sake. They believe long content earns more love from search engines.
Anxious to reach the word count goal, writers add a bunch of words especially qualifiers and adverbs, throw in statistics and amend sentences to plug in key phrases until it fits.
Do we need “very” to underscore how much we need to drop needless words? We’ve used “very,” “so” and “really” so often that these words have lost power.
Split Long Sentences to Create Two Shorter Ones for a Crisper Read
Granted, the quote from Zinsser runs long. But it packs a punch. If he had replaced commas with periods, how would it affect the sentence?
I’ve edited articles where an entire paragraph contained one sentence. For these, I convert the long sentence into two or three sentences. This breaks multiple thoughts into a single thought for each. It improves readability and clarity.
Omit Redundant Words
Take a look at this list and see how you can make them better.
- Add a new.
- In order to.
- Overused cliché.
- Past history.
- Period of time.
- Plan ahead.
- Straight to the point.
- Tall skyscraper.
- Thanks in advance.
I applied these tips to my writing as quickly as I learned where to find the hazard lights button. Next time I crack the car’s user manual, I’ll glean two or three tips. Those will join these three plus the many others I’ve discovered since I started driving my car. In a year or two, the new knowledge will help me improve this article.
Keep reading and keep writing. The bettering will follow. Oh, and be sure to find your hazard lights now before you need to know how.
Share your writing tip in the comments.
About the Author
Meryl K. Evans, Content Maven, writes a variety of content and helps her clients with their content marketing needs. A native Texan, Meryl lives a heartbeat north of Dallas in Plano, Texas with her husband and three kiddos. Y’all can visit her online home at http://www.meryl.net.