3 Steps to Better Writing

This is journalism 101.

Plus technical writing.  Really, any factual writing that isn’t fiction.  And even then the rules still apply, although they can be bent further.

I am a sucker for TLA’s.  Or any mnemonic that gives me an easy to remember framework to remember something.  This is no different and is my fallback toolkit when writing.

The ABC’s of Writing

Not to be confused with the ABC’s previously mentioned; this refers to Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.

Especially helpful for beginning writers, or those unsure where to go, it is also a valued tool of professional writers and can be a powerful lens through which to view your work.

While the first stage of writing tends to, and should be, a free-form brain dump onto the paper; the ABC’s should be utilized during the next stage – revision.  You are revising aren’t you?  Nothing should go to press without a second run through to ensure that the 3 criteria are met.

Accuracy

Facts.  Get them right.

This point is paramount.  Misreporting factual evidence destroys your credibility and there is no excuse for it in today’s information rich environment.

Unfortunately it is sometimes this very environment that leads to the wrong facts in the first place.  Information found on the internet is not always as accurate as it seems and often requires secondary verification.  Linking to actual studies and assembling proper footnotes and bibliography will help ensure the accuracy of the facts you are reporting.

It is also important to make sure that you are accurately stating the position that you mean to.  Clarify your thoughts prior to putting them down on paper.  Think your argument through to the end so that it is built on a firm foundation.

Brevity

Defined as the concise and exact use of words.  Or as stated by William Shakespeare in Hamlet:

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

Use the proper words to most accurately convey your thoughts and feelings.  It happens that sometimes the first word you think of is suitable for getting the message across, but another more exact word would more accurately make your point.

The Thesaurus is your friend here and should be on the desk (or bookmarks bar!) of any writer working to up their game.  Sitting right next to the Dictionary of course.

Clarity

It is important to present your points simply and clearly, to avoid any confusion or miscommunication.

There are a few points to remember that will help to keep your message clear:

  • Use simple, everyday language
  • Only make one point per sentence
  • Keep sentences short
  • Avoid acronyms and abbreviations, unless already clearly defined
  • Break down complicated points so they can be presented simply

An unclear point is the same as a point that has not been made at all.

The 4th C – Conciseness

The Elements of Style, Rule No. 17 – “Omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words.”

Keeping it concise means using no more, but no less, words than it takes to pass your message.  Flowery writing, or being over-verbose should be avoided in the interest of keeping your message concise.

The majority of my writing is technical in nature and I am called on to make neutral observations without passing judgement or skewing perception in one way or the other.  The only way to do this is by sticking to the facts and by keeping it concise.  Otherwise you end up writing yourself in circles, diluting your message, and reducing its effectiveness.

Writing is Revision

The act of writing isn’t completed when the final word is down on paper, or burned into your screen as the case may be.  It is completed when you ship.  When you post it, submit it, or drop it in the mailbox.

The middle step of revision is what separates good writing from great.

So put your work aside for a day or two so that you can come back to it dispassionately.  Then re-read it and view it through the lens of the ABC’s.  Question every line.

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