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Becoming a Better Writer

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Posted July 8, 2024

Become a better writer–is this even possible? We all know that strong writing skills are more critical than ever, especially in the age of text messaging, video calls, and AI-created content. Effective communication can be the difference between a successful project and a failed one, a closed deal and a missed opportunity, and effectiveness rests on writing skill.

And it’s clear there’s a lot of room for improvement here. Inc. Magazine reports that large businesses spend, without exaggeration, billions of dollars on remedial writing training annually. That’s a clear sign there’s a significant gap between existing writing skills and needed writing skills.

And good writing makes a business difference: well-written articles receive more links and citations, well-written proposals land more business, etc. In essence, good writing is a powerful tool that can propel a business forward, making it an essential skill for professionals in all fields.

But all of this leaves open a critical question: how to become a better writer in the first place?

What is “Good” Writing in a Professional Environment?

When we talk about “good” writing in a professional context, we are not necessarily referring to literary quality. Professional and technical writing are goal oriented. Good writing in these contexts is clear, concise, and effective. It should convey the intended message without ambiguity and persuade or inform the reader as required. More to the point, above all else, good writing is that which achieves its intended purpose with its intended audience.

Consider the objectives of a business report versus a technical manual. The report aims to present data and insights to support decision-making, while the manual’s goal is to provide clear instructions for using a product or system. Both require precise language, logical organization, and a focus on the reader’s needs. Success in professional writing is measured by the achievement of these goals rather than by artistic expression.

How to Become a Better Writer: Techniques, Tips, and Exercises

Get Training

Writing training is the cornerstone of skill development. As a skills-based activity, writing can be significantly improved through development programs and consistent practice. A meta-analysis assessing the impact of specific interventions on writing quality found that the single most impactful intervention was structured writing instruction. In particular, the researchers found that instruction in writing strategies was significantly more impactful to overall writing quality than just teaching the fundamentals of good grammar.

Think of Writing as a Process, not a Product

William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, said, “I think we are totally obsessed with the successful finished product. If you’re thinking, ‘Gee, I don’t know if I can write something good enough to be published,’ you’re writing it for the wrong purpose. The finished product is the last thing you should be thinking of.”

Viewing writing as a process emphasizes the importance of drafting, revising, and editing. This approach allows writers to focus on developing their ideas and improving clarity rather than being paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection from the start. It also fosters consistency. Professionals—especially those for whom writing is not their primary job duty—can’t approach writing in an inconsistent and ad hoc way and expect anything other than inconsistent and ad hoc results. As The Harvard Business Review describes the importance of process over product: “Productivity is about your systems, not your people.”

For help creating helpful and effective writing processes, consider the Hurley Write PROS Framework.

Use Outlining or Another Pre-Writing Activity to Organize Thoughts

Outlining is a powerful tool for organizing thoughts before beginning the writing process. Creating an outline helps writers structure their ideas logically and ensures that all necessary points are covered. It can also make the drafting process more efficient by providing a clear roadmap to follow.

Note, however, that in some cases an outline should be the second step rather than the first. An outline can organize your thoughts, but what if you haven’t even articulated thoughts on the writing topic? In this case, start with another pre-writing activity like audience analysis, brainstorming (like mind-mapping or free association), or freewriting (freeform stream-of-consciousness practice writing). Interestingly, activities like these will improve writing output over time. One study found that after eight weeks of freewriting exercises, the writing fluency of university students showed statistically significant improvement.

Practice Regularly with Timed Writing Exercises

Timed writing exercises can help writers improve their ability to think and write quickly and clearly. Setting a timer for short bursts (e.g., 10-15 minutes) and focusing on a specific topic or prompt can build writing fluency and reduce anxiety. “The logic behind this is that nothing is more important for writing development than putting in the hours defining and refining one’s voice, organizing and reorganizing one’s thoughts, and learning how words spill out of one’s head and onto the page,” explains English teacher Matthew Johnson.

In fact, researchers have even documented the “practice makes perfect” effect when it comes to writing. A study from Germany used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map the brains of both novice and experienced creative writers. The study revealed that experienced writers had greater development in specific areas of the brain, including speech centers, compared to the novices.

Conclusion

Becoming a better writer requires more than just one trick or formula. It’s about integrating various strategies and approaches. Investing in proper training, considering writing as a process, adhering to structured writing practices, and utilizing techniques such as outlining and timed exercises can greatly enhance your writing skills. So, don’t rely on a single method; combine these practices to become a more proficient writer. No single tip or technique will magically turn a person or a workforce into powerhouse writers. Instead, adopting a combination of practices like those described above is how to become a better writer. By investing in training, embracing writing as a process, following structured writing practices, and incorporating specific techniques like outlining and timed exercises, professionals and work teams can significantly improve their writing abilities.

 

Ready to build the writing skills that turn your team into master wordsmiths? Our team of experts can assess your situation, diagnose your writing challenges, and also prescribe the perfect course to help you achieve your goals. Contact Hurley Write for a no-obligation consultation.

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Better Writer

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