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How to be a better writer

We’re all writers. Some by want. Some by necessity. And whether we know it or not, we’re all in the business of selling with words.

You might be a student trying to persuade your teacher with a commanding essay. Or perhaps you’re hoping to woo your crush with a Pulitzer Prize-worthy direct message.

If you work in an office, you most certainly are a writer. In fact, you’ll likely spend over a quarter of your workday writing emails (that ends up being around 42,000 words a year – slightly less than The Great Gatsby).

In an era when the written word is king, how do we become better at this vital skill? Professor Lyn Mc Credden from the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University gives us her tips on how to write with purpose and make every word count.

Become a pro at planning

When it comes to planning what you’re about to write, Prof. Mc Credden says having ‘empathy and an awareness of your audience’ is crucial. Putting yourself in the shoes of your reader can help you find the right tone and tailor your message to match their needs.

Outlining helps you organise what you want to say, which makes the writing itself much easier. American author and The New York Times Magazine deputy editor Bill Wasik stresses the importance of having an outline: ‘Hone your outline and cling to it as a lifeline. It will help you see your piece as a sequence of manageable sections.’

Be clear and be memorable

Once you have the skeleton of what you want to say, it’s time to flesh your writing out with content.

‘If you write to instruct (lectures, reports, emails), dot points can be helpful for your audience,’ Prof. Mc Credden says. ‘For extended pieces of writing, subheadings can greatly increase flow and readability’.

Whether you’re writing a 600-word essay or a 60-word email, you’ll produce a better piece when you’re concise. If you can remove a word or phrase while retaining the same message, do it.

When it comes to longer forms of writing, writers can’t rely on clarity and brevity alone. According to Prof. McCredden, ‘there needs to be passion in there, illustrations of what you’re talking about’. Without passion, writing can become clinical. Insert your personal style into your writing to help your essay, article or story stand out from the pack. Be an illustrator with your words and your audience will feel like reading your piece was time well spent.

Proofread like it matters

‘Read out aloud – to yourself, your dog, your friend. You’ll hear your piece, the sentences, pauses and connectives through their ears,’ Prof. Mc Credden explains.

‘But re-read carefully, after you’ve hopefully left your piece aside for a while, depending on how much time you’ve got. Mistakes stand out more when you’ve put space and time between yourself and the writing.’

While it may feel a bit weird at first, reading out loud makes it easier to catch grammar and spelling mistakes as well as awkward structures and clunky sentences.

'Read out aloud – to yourself, your dog, your friend. You’ll hear your piece, the sentences, pauses and connectives through their ears.'

Professor Lyn Mc Credden,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

Practice makes perfect

Are writing skills natural, or do they need to be developed?

In Prof. Mc Credden’s opinion, ‘for some, writing is somewhat innate, a talent or gift. But even for the gifted, practice and reading are very important.’

Like any skill, you need to practise writing to get better. That doesn’t mean you have to spend your weekends drafting emails to imaginary stakeholders. Wait for moments when you’re feeling happy, relaxed or creative, and just start writing no matter the subject. By practising your writing and getting into good reading habits, you can learn from your mistakes and deepen your pool of idea inspiration.

In a world a full of distractions, the ability to write clearly, accurately and distinctively is highly sought-after. While ‘writing and language isn’t for everyone’, Prof. Mc Credden says that being able to use words that ‘strongly persuade, delineate, clear up problems, entrance and help people think in fresh ways is an incredibly useful skill and seriously important.’

Consider yourself a wordsmith? Put your grammar skills to the test by taking our interactive quiz.

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Prof. Lyn Mc Credden
Prof. Lyn Mc Credden

Personal Chair, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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