How to write better when you don’t write well

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Some people seem to write well naturally while others struggle.  Some think they write well, but in reality, produce stiff, boring and pedantic pieces that no one really enjoys reading.

Some people think that corporate, or business focused writing should be pedantic otherwise it doesn’t look ‘professional’.

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, and writing professionally for at least 25 years.  One thing I’ve learned over those years is that sometimes the fact that you may not write well is less important than the message you deliver and the sincerity with which it is delivered.

Seriously.  Even in business.  Now, I’m sure that the statement I’ve just made will make many people’s hair curl, but… it really doesn’t matter because it’s the truth.

While it’s difficult to be adamant about almost anything these days – there’s always another way to do something – on this one subject I’m absolutely adamant.

Communication is the priority, not grammar or structure or any other criteria used to judge the level of writing expertise.

Why do I say this?  As a professional writer, writing clearly, grammatically and spelling correctly is essential and I wouldn’t be able to get a client, much less keep one, if I didn’t stick to the rules.  Somewhat.

The reason I’m saying that you can get away with some language faux pas in favor of communication is that language doesn’t necessarily determine accuracy of communication.

What determines accuracy of communication is being able to articulate a message in the terms that your audience will readily understand.

Whenever I hear language purists bemoaning the bastardization of their language, particularly of English, it makes me smile.  I used to be an avid defender of using it correctly too.  Until, one day, I watched a series of documentaries about the development of the English language.

Did you know that at one time, England’s official language in the court was …. French?   Yup. French.

Maybe you already knew this: many English words in our current dictionary evolved from other languages.  Greek, Latin, French and German in particular. The English language has absorbed words from other languages during wars, exploration, colonization and economic exchanges.  This practice is known as ‘neolizing’.  Apparently during the 1500’s to the mid 1600’s about 30,000 words were added to the English language in this fashion.

It’s a fascinating subject and well worth researching if you have an interest in that sort of thing.  To get back to my point about sacrificing English purism for the sake of communication, let me just clarify for a second.

I’m not suggesting that we forget about spelling, grammar and vocabulary at all.  What I want to make clear is this:  if you feel that you do not write well but you passionately believe in a message you’re attempting to communicate using the written word, don’t despair.

Here are some tips on how you can communicate more clearly and powerfully in spite of your perceived limitations.

  • Allow your passion to pour out on the page (sorry… not an intentional alliteration…)
  • Write your message exactly as you would express it verbally
  • Leave it to rest for a few hours or days
  • Come back to it and read through it aloud
  • Do you understand what you were trying to say or did you confuse yourself after reading it?
  • Keeping your original document intact, begin another one and break out each major idea, concept or point you want to communicate
  • Arrange those points in a logical order
  • Read each point aloud – does it make sense?
  • If not, write it out with a little more explanation to it
  • Once you have done that add a beginning and an end
  • The beginning should be a short explanation of what your intended message will be
  • The end should be a summation or conclusion highlighting what you want the reader to walk away knowing

Now… take this to someone who is in a similar demographic to the audience you’re addressing and ask them to read what you’ve writtern and tell you what they understood the piece to say.  If what they understand is not what you intended, then ask them identify which words you used that created their perception.

Explain to them what you really intended to say and ask what words they would use in that context. Make adjustments to what you’ve written based on these insights.

Finally: never be afraid to scrap everything you’ve done and start again.  Don’t delete your originals but do start a totally new document if you feel as if you’re getting yourself into a corner.  It’s often easier to begin again than to try to alter something you’ve already written.

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