My Top Ten Tips to improve writing are broken into five “put” rules (what to put into your writing) and five “cut” rules (what to cut from your writing).
Put one book per week on your “just finished” list. If that’s a stretch, make it one book per month. Or put into your brain every week the material from five lengthy, detailed articles. I’m not talking People magazine here, people. I’m talking about concept-heavy, detailed analyses on subjects typically outside your day-to-day work environment: Magazine or newspaper articles on science, psychiatry, executive leadership, or world affairs; how-to and self-help guides on being a better neighbor, a better handyman, or a better human; or biographical sketches on your favorite athlete, your long-lost cousin or your state’s most famous person. Every great writer was first a great reader.
Put yourself in your audience’s place. What do they want to gain from reading your words? Use the words I, me, my and mine sparingly. Sure, of course they want to know you speak from experience, but they want to hear how they can use your knowledge and experience to improve their own results.
Put the main point of your document right up front. Irrespective of whether it is a media release, position paper, response to an RFP, novel, speech, magazine article, or direct mail piece, tell the reader right away the point you want them to walk away with. Likewise, put the main point of the document you’re writing into the last paragraph to reiterate the point – restating it so you don’t sound repetitive. In journalism classes, we were taught, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them again.
Put the main point of each paragraph or section in the first sentence, add a supporting statement in the middle and end the paragraph with a reiteration of the main point – or elegantly segue into the next paragraph. Many readers will skim through your work. Following this formula ensures that even if they read only the first sentence in each paragraph, they will receive the gist of the piece.
Put readers into the scene with descriptive words and phrases, don’t tell them what happened using “thud” words. In a media release, it is far more evocative to read, “Most people in the audience were in tears as Mr. Charles closed his remarks and slowly maneuvered his wheelchair off the stage,” than to read, “He wheeled himself across stage to accept his award.” And in a response to a request for proposal, it is far better for a prospective client to read, “Our team members act as right-hand assistants, guiding you through the installation process and answering your questions in easy-to-understand language,” than to read, “We have great customer service reps.”