1⃣ Build your writing around a skeleton of key points: never start writing without a bullet point structure that maps out the cornerstones of your argument. Focus on making those bullet points as straightforward as possible, and build out the evidence and detail around them. If everything but these points were stripped away, your reader should still be able to get the core of what you’re saying.
2⃣ Trick your brain out of writer’s block.
Writing out your ideas in draft bullet points also takes the subconscious pressure out of finding the perfect phrasing, so it’s a great trick for just getting words onto the page. Another trick is to start sentences with ‘so basically’, then write in the most basic words you can think of, as though you’re explaining it to a mate over coffee, just to get the idea out. Of course, once you’ve made all that rough content, go back and edit, edit, edit.
3⃣ Be accessible
: there’s no better way to sound intelligent, precise and like you know what you’re talking about than to use the simplest language you can. Utilise? No, use
. In order to effect change? No, just to change
. Use plain english, use complex terms only when necessary, and cut filler words. (The Hemingway App
helps with this.) It’s also worth taking some time to read about ‘active voice’
and practice using it instead of passive voice.
4⃣ Be ruthless with cuts. The best thing you’ll ever do for your writing is cut huge chunks of your draft while editing. If there are paragraphs that don’t help the reader out, or are tangential, cut them, no matter how long they took to write. Remember, the goal is to be precise, accessible and concise, not verbose. (Colleagues and friends are your best tool here. If they read a draft and suggest cuts, listen to them.)
5⃣ Scrapbook! When cutting, you’ll find it hard to part with your words. A good trick is to open a separate doc, and paste the text you cut into there. That way, you haven’t lost it and you can easily reinsert it afterwards if you do find you need it.
6⃣ Formatting is your friend. There is nothing more daunting than pages and pages of dense text, with few visual breaks. A simple way to improve readability is to use structural and formatting tools to guide the reader from point to point. Paragraphs, subheadings, line-breaks, bullet points, bold text: there’s a whole arsenal of tools you can use to structure your ideas.
7⃣ Start at the third paragraph. More often than not, we subconsciously use the first two (or three) paragraphs to ‘get into’ what we are writing. That means these opening lines are mostly filler, the product of our brains getting into gear like a stuttering engine. Usually, this can be cut, allowing the reader to get straight into the protein of your ideas. (Use the scrapbook, if you’re unsure!) This is a trick many journalists and book editors use.