20 Writing Tips for Anyone

By Kelly Tabbutt

Writing is a craft: a skill that can be sharpened with practice. Anyone can improve in the craft of writing. Here are 20 quick writing tips you can use to write better.

image of a cartoon pencil and paper notebook

BRAINSTORMING

1. Tap into your “stream of consciousness”

Stream of consciousness means writing whatever pops into your head as it pops into your head without second guessing the idea. Stream of consciousness is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. There is plenty of time to clean up your ideas after you get them on paper.

2. Ask for suggestions

If you run into a creative road block, ask for suggestions! Ask anyone who will listen and respond: friends, family, colleagues, the person sitting next to you at a restaurant – anyone. You don’t have to take their suggestions, but if nothing else, it may spark new ideas.

This might sound weird, but talking to random people (friends, family, strangers you encounter) about your writing may help spark new ideas.

3. Research what others are saying

Research what other people are talking about. Look at what they are saying about various topics. Know what’s out there so you can be part of the conversation – without repeating what’s already been said. Ideally, this will help you come up with new topics or new perspectives on familiar topics.

4. Topic maps

Idea maps are a great way to jump start brainstorming. Start with one topic and draw lines between that idea and other related topics. You will end up with a series of individual ideas that you can write about, or you can try to find the overarching topic that interconnects those ideas.

5. Don’t wait for creativity – compel it

Don’t wait for creativity – make it happen. Sure, you can do things to be more creative, like sleep more, but creativity is a process. Invite creativity into your life by making time for it: setting aside a time and place for you to do your brainstorming. This can be a spot in your home or at your favorite coffee shop: wherever you think best. If you get stuck, move to a different section or aspect of your work: rework your outline, brainstorm, or start editing. No matter what, keep writing.

Don’t wait for creativity to strike. This rarely happens. Instead, set aside a time and place to brainstorm and work on your project, even if in small parts.

EDITING

6. Edit in stages

It is easy to get lost in the weeds when editing. Thorough editing isn’t one and done: it requires stages. In the first stage, it is useful to read the entire product and make broad notes to improve the coherence of your piece. The next rounds can focus on “perfecting” section by section.

7. Editing is a labor of love

Editing is a labor of love. It is like gardening: it requires calm, careful attention. It requires patience and persistence. It requires a constant focus on both the task at hand — the section, paragraph, or sentence you are improving — and the end product you are cultivating.

Editing is like gardening. It requires calm, careful attention, as well as patience and persistence.

8. Ask non-experts to review

Even if you are writing for an audience trained in your subject, consider seeking out non-experts to review your work for clarity. Friends or family can make great reviewers. The point is to make sure that any reader could understand at least the main point you are making.

9. Know your “through line”

One of the purposes of editing is to ensure you have a coherent product. A through line is a connecting theme that unifies your writing piece. Take the time to figure out your writing’s through line: what is the specific topic or question you seek to discuss or answer? Make sure every element of your writing references, points back to, and/or supports this purpose.

10. Edit periodically

Sometimes editing requires a new perspective. Re-reading the same piece or section can lead to oversights. If you have been working on writing or editing a piece for a long time, it can be useful to step away from it for a little while — whether a couple of hours, or a day or two — to come back with fresh eyes.

STRUCTURE

11. Conciseness

Be concise in your writing. Avoid redundancy and never use two words where you can use one. Use your words like you use your emergency funds: use the minimum necessary, and only use them for what is vital.

12. Simplicity

When writing, remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Explain concepts and connections as straightforwardly as possible. Avoid complexity and jargon. Think of the points you are making as dots in a connect-the-dots puzzle: make sure that there is one clear line connecting each dot, and that all dots eventually connect as pieces of a larger picture.

13. One sentence, one idea

One way to ensure clarity and simplicity is to make sure each sentence only presents one idea or topic. You can connect the previous idea or topic to the next in the next sentence. Think of each sentence as an argument – know the point you’re making, make it quickly, and make it in plain language.

Think of each sentence as an argument – know the point you’re making, make it quickly, and make it in plain language.

14. Speak directly

Avoid passive writing. Yes, this means avoiding the passive voice in a grammatical sense, but it also means not beating around the bush. This connects to writing concisely and simply. Make your point with assuredness. If you’re discussing something debatable, make the dubiousness plain.

15. Explain complex concepts right away

If you have to introduce a complex concept or jargon, explain what it means the first time you mention it in the text. Ideally, you should set up the background and context for this idea or term to lead the reader’s understanding. Make sure that your explanation is concise and simple so that it does not further confuse the reader.

STYLE

16. Know your audience

Know the people for whom you are writing. Know their interests: do abstract philosophical questions matter to them? Or are they more concerned with practical day-to-day issues? Know the level of subject-knowledge that you can reasonably expect for this audience: are they experts, students, lay people, or a mix?

17. Reach your audience

Don’t use language or (unexplained) concepts that your audience shouldn’t be expected know. Don’t speak down to them either: speak plainly but thought-provokingly. As Frantz Fanon said, “everything can be explained to the people, on the condition that you want them to understand.”

Don’t use unexplained jargon or talk down to your audience. To reach your audience, meet them at their level of understanding.

18. Know your voice

A writer’s voice is their style – it’s their tone. Some write conversationally; some write in a more scholarly tone. Some write more artfully; some write matter-of-factly. Knowing your voice lets you focus on using that voice effectively and approachably regardless of your audience.

19. The conversational tone

Knowing your voice is important, but it is also valuable to be able to write in multiple tones. The conversational tone ideally combines authority with approachability. When writing to a broad audience, the conversational tone can help to bridge the gap between reader and writer.

20. Write for impact

Write to affect your audience. This doesn’t mean writing for shock value. It does mean stating your points firmly. It means using language that is neither misleadingly intense nor deceptively understated. It means finding the balance between engaged zeal and unbiased rationality.

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