With tools such as Grammarly and spell check available these days everyone should be a writing pro, right? Well, not quite. These are all great tools in their own way, but often lead to lazy and careless errors. Affect or effect? Both are spelled correctly and won’t get picked up by spell check.
No-one can afford mistakes like this in an important report or essay, so with that in mind we’ve come up with five tips to make sure you have clean, grammatically correct copy in your essay, professional communications or blog article.
First things first: make sure your piece is organised into clear, well defined paragraphs. If it’s an essay, go for one idea per paragraph. However, for any other form of writing, professional or creative, you don’t want paragraphs that take up most of an A4 page.
If you’re writing a journalistic piece, keep it to 25-30 words per paragraph and two sentences at most. There’s no hard and fast rule for blog articles, but consistency is the key. A consistent approach looks cleaner and more professional, and is much easier to read.
Tone of voice
Once you nail your tone of voice, you’ll likely find that your writing is better received. For example, you don’t want an important announcement by a corporation to sound overly familiar or friendly (sup peeps?!), littered with slang or net speak (#YOLO, totes, LOL) or referencing yourself with ‘I’ or ‘me’ (however this is sometimes okay for a blog).
Trim the fat
This may be the hardest part for some. Let’s be real: many people lose themselves in their passion or simply love the sound of their own voice, but this quickly becomes tiresome to a reader. It’s great to be passionate, but once you’ve finished your brain dump you need to go back and clean up the mess. Look at what’s necessary to support your argument or narrative. Nobody enjoys reading other people’s waffle.
This is easier if you have a word count, but will otherwise require a bit more discipline. Try a self-imposed word count. If you’re writing a blog, most people won’t be interested in reading more than 700-800 words on your latest Masterchef creation, so trim the fat!
Writing clear, concise and active sentences is an art.
Set it aside for a while
Depending on your schedule, the time between writing, editing and then proofreading will vary greatly. Ideally you want to leave it overnight, but at the very least put it aside for 15 minutes, then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.
If it’s an option, get someone else to also have a glance. Third parties won’t be emotionally invested, will find errors you don’t and cut back on the words you won’t let go of.
Print it out, grab the red pen and read aloud
At the risk of sounding ‘old-school’ nothing beats this method, especially if you can’t get someone else to proof-read. You’ll soon notice whether your writing flows well, and grammatical and spelling errors will present themselves almost magically. It’s also a good time to give your eyes a rest from that glary computer screen.
At the risk of saying something obvious, be sure to read slowly and carefully – don’t just skim read. You can’t afford to rush this crucial part of the process.
Finally, regardless of what it is that you’re writing, make sure you have a strong conclusion – unlike this one which in the wise words of the Wu-Tang’s GZA is “weak like clock radio speakers”.