Most of my training has come on the job. I didn’t go to school for journalism or anything like that. I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. So, when I’m asked the question, “How do I get better at writing,” I feel a little embarrassed. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not).
I’m kicking off a new blog series called Write more better: Unoriginal (but helpful!) tips for writing well. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be sharing a few tips I’ve found helpful on the journey to being a writer. If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, I hope you’ll find this series helpful.
Alright, let’s get started.
Tip 1: Write simply.
What do I mean by “write simply”?
Three things: Avoid technical language. Keep your sentences simple. Don’t be a show-off:
Avoid technical jargon
Now, there are times when technical jargon or other big words are unavoidable. When it is, we should bring clarity by explaining what they mean. But any time we can avoid jargon, we should. Often, we use jargon not because we must, but because it’s convenient. This does a disservice to our readers and paints us as being a bit lazy.
Keep your sentences simple
While there are appropriate levels of complexity, overly-complicated sentences tends to suggest we don’t know what we’re doing.
Take this sentence for example:
A chief programmatic outcome is to ensure beneficiaries have developed sufficient relational skills to thrive.
I’m sure you can figure out what I’m saying here, but there are easier ways to write it. If I were writing with simplicity in mind, it might look a little more like this::
We are going to teach people how to make friends because it’s important.
The first makes you die a little on the inside. The second actually tells you something.
Don’t be a show-off
The best way to summarize this point is as follows:don’t use “utilize” when “use” will do.
I hate people using the word “utilize.” Just hearing the word is like fingernails running down a chalkboard, something that amuses my coworkers greatly. While I don’t believe most people mean it this way, using unnecessary big words often comes across as showing off. You’re trying to impress us with your vocabulary, but you’re really only making yourself look silly.