As a young professional, writing is one of the most important base skills you can hone. It’s essential for communication, and good communication is immeasurably valuable in your career. Writing applies everywhere – to the emails you send, the website copy you write, the ad copy you need to create to sell your product, and the blog posts you use to promote your ideas and your brand.
In Praxis, participants partake in a month-long blogging challenge where they write a blog post every single day. This exercise serves two purposes. One is to help participants get in the habit of shipping things every day. The other is to hone their writing ability. It’s so important we dedicate to it a whole module in our bootcamp.
Dedicating time and focus to improving one’s writing is a valuable activity. A few of my top tips for doing so:
Keep Your Writing Visually Appealing
The average attention span is relatively small. The majority of your readers are likely surfing the web looking for quick gratification, and if they don’t get it, they get bored.
To hold their attention, you have to give them quick gratification – in this case, finishing paragraphs. When you’re reading an article or an email or an essay, finishing a paragraph is a win. Give your readers lots of wins.
Short paragraphs are undaunting and easy to tackle – they draw your eye down the page. You finish one and you think, let me read one more. On the flip side, long paragraphs look like blocks of text your reader has to slog through, and they dampen enthusiasm. A reader with a short attention span will skip those parts, or worse, stop reading altogether.
Never, ever risk losing your reader by scaring them away with long paragraphs.
Note: this rule especially holds true at the beginning of an article. Win your reader’s attention with an easy buy-in – short opening paragraphs (or even sentences). The simpler the hook, the better.
Also note: while paragraphs are the easiest and most important strategy for making your writing appealing, there are other tactics. Bulleted lists are a great way to draw the eye down the page and break up the flow. So are subject headers.
Give me Substance
Be specific. It’s very easy to skim the surface with your writing and never say anything concrete. People read articles because they want to derive value. If you want to offer value, always be specific.
If you’re writing an article, go deep. To each point you make, ask yourself a follow-up question: “Why?” Or, if applicable, “How?” or “Where?” or “When?” Tease out the detail of what you’re describing. Better yet, imagine your reader asks “why?” or “how?” in response to what you say, and then answer that question.
The more depth you can offer, the more interesting your article can be, and the more value your reader can derive.
Don’t Use too Many Words
Writing teachers like to call this part “killing your darlings” – the act of going through your writing and cutting out the pretty but unnecessary parts. In the Praxis writing curriculum, participants do an exercise where they take an article they’ve written and halve the word count. The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to be concise.
Academic writing is a major culprit here. In the academic world, writing is rewarded based on page count, leading students to add lots of filler words and sentences to their essays to meet their goals.
In the real world, this is counterproductive. Just as your reader will become bored with long paragraphs, they’ll also become bored if you take too long to get to the point.
Go through your writing line by line and ask yourself regarding each sentence, “Does this help move me closer to my goal in this article?” If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, toss it. If you want to be harsher, ask yourself, “Is this imperative to getting my point across?”
Show, Don’t Tell
Description is everything. When writing about your skills, don’t just tell me that you’re good at x skill. Illustrate what this means. Give me an example of your skill in action.
Telling is very subjective. Anyone can say “I’m good at customer service.” There are a million different things that phrase can mean – everything from always showing up to work on time and never being unpleasant to going above and beyond to appease angry customers and staying late after work to fill the order of a customer who didn’t get what they were promised. Illustrating your original statement shows exactly what you mean.
When you tell me you learned something, show me what that means. If you learned to use Trello boards, explain what that looks like. If one of your greatest skills is mediating, give me an example of that skill in action.
This also works from a human interest perspective. People are more likely to remember images called to mind by stories than they are to remember boring statements. Giving examples and showing what you mean brings your writing to life.
Read Good Writing, and Write Often
We learn two ways: through doing and through observing. The key to becoming better as a writer is to study other writers, and to practice.
Studying other writers allows you to absorb their writing style and observe their techniques. Read lots and lots of content, especially from writers you respect. Since you’re reading this post, you likely already have a habit of consuming content, which is good. Do more of this. Find blogs you like and read them regularly. Read good books.
If you want to take this one step further, copy the writing of authors you like. Find a passage you like and type it out word for word. If you normally write on paper, then write it out by hand. The act of typing forces you to pay attention to the words in a way that you wouldn’t if you were just reading, and it helps you internalize the structure of the writing. Praxis alum and Marketing Associate Lolita Allgyer did this for a month in May, as one of her PDPs.
And lastly, write. Write often. Write copiously. There’s a reason every Praxis participant goes through a thirty-day writing challenge to hone their writing skill. Writing regularly helps you hone your craft like nothing else will. Do a thirty-day blogging challenge. If that feels unrealistic, challenge yourself to write every other day, or twice a week, or weekly. It doesn’t matter – just start somewhere. Post what you write publicly. Keep practicing.