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How to Improve your Writing Skills

How to Improve Your Writing Skills

Communication is the art of transferring your thoughts and ideas into the minds of others.
Your most efficient form of communication is language and your language can be in spoken or written form.

Sometimes, you may need to express your thoughts and ideas in writing.
For some people, that represents a problem, because they are not very good at expressing themselves in writing.

If you want to improve your performance of any complex skill, such as writing, then you can do that by learning and applying the proper principles which govern that particular skill.

If you need some help with your written communication skills, there are four principles that you can follow.

1. Give Clear Definitions

It is important to give definitions of all your major terms. A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term. You need to define your major terms; and you need to do it early in the document. For example, this document is about communication and the first sentence in this document is a definition of the word, "communication".

It is important to remember that many words have more than one meaning, and that the meaning varies depending on how it is being used, and by whom the words are being read. If you don't define your terms, then your message may remain ill defined.

There are many words and phrases that are "often used but ill defined". Words like:

  • Fairness
  • Power
  • Success
  • Happiness
  • Professional
  • Attitude problem
  • Efficient
  • Urgent
  • Important
  • ASAP

All these words should be given an exact meaning. If you don't define your terms, you will be misunderstood. Whatever can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood. So define your terms.

2. Illustrate With Good Examples

In addition to giving definitions, it is often very helpful to illustrate your definition by offering some concrete examples. So a common sequence of writing will be:

  1. Name your point
  2. Define your point
  3. Illustrate your point with a good example

For example, if I was writing about leadership I would follow the above sequence.

"It is important for all organisations to develop their leaders. A leader is a member of a team or organisation who is primarily responsible for creating and communicating a clear goal, and who is able to inspire others to work to achieve the goal. Good examples of leadership would be, Winston Churchill, or Walt Disney, or Nelson Mandela."

3. Enumeration

Enumeration is the act of numbering items, or categories. Enumeration is an important tool to use when writing because it imposes order onto your ideas. In addition it allows the reader to differentiate where one point finishes and the next point starts.

It is important not to give too many points in one block. The human mind is limited in its capacity to deal with information. The amount that most people can handle in one mental effort is between 5 and 9 bits of information, depending on the energy and motivation of the reader. So limit your message to no more than 9 major points.

If you have more than nine major points, then break them up into categories or subsets. And make each subset no more than nine units long. Your message should be categorised and numbered. Then the reader can digest your whole message a bit at a time.

4. Summarize and Repeat Main Points

In order to help the reader to retain your message in their memory, it is important to summarize and repeat your main points. Repetition is important for the memory. If you don't repeat your main message, they won't remember it.

If you repeat your message over and over, they will be more likely to remember it.

So, Repeat after me: "Repetition is the mother of learning. Repetition is the mother of learning. Repetition is the mother of learning."


Writing Techniques

1. Rhetorical Questions

Asking and answering questions is a natural form of spoken communication, and it is also a powerful rhetorical device. Why is asking questions such a powerful rhetorical device? Because questions stimulate the mind and cause the other person to think.

How could you use questions in your writing to stimulate the mind of your listeners?

2. Anadiplosis

Anadiplosis is the act of making the end of one sentence similar to the beginning of the next sentence. If you make the beginning of the next sentence the same as the end of the previous one, then you start to develop a systematic chain of thought.

The mind likes to see the development of a systematic chain of thought; since it seems to suggest a logical progression; linking one idea to the next. And logical progression, linking one idea to the next, is one of the hallmarks of clear, rational and persuasive writing.

3. Antithesis

Antithesis is the technique of contrasting two opposing ideas. You put the opposing ideas next to each other to achieve a contrasting effect. Remember that contrast is an important concept. I often use this method by stating my "positive point" and then I contrast it to its contradictory opposite.

Example: I think we should go north; because if we do go north then all these good things will result. If we don't go north then look at all these bad things that will result.

Remember that "The Good" is only good by reference to "The Bad". Meaning: If there was no bad, then the good would not look so good, would it?

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is the method used by marketing men and sales superstars. Alliteration is all around us. Alliteration is the use of words starting with the same sound.

Kit Kat. Coca Cola. Mickey Mouse and The Sound of Silence are examples of alliteration.

Can you see the use of alliteration in my first sentence of this section?

Alliteration is the method used by all marketing men and sales superstars. Alliteration is all around us. Alliteration is the use of words starting with the same sound.

So, why not alter your style and start slipping in some alliteration?

The ABC Method

Here is a golden rule:
Never write to clarify your thoughts. Clarify your thoughts in order to write.

Apply these three steps as the fundamentals of good writing.
We call it the ABC method.

A. Learn to be Accurate

Accuracy is the most important element to your business writing.

If you are inaccurate you will mislead others and that will cost you dearly. So, this is most important.

Overall accuracy comes from:

  1. Having true facts that are relevant and up to date
  2. Accurately interpreting the facts
  3. Accurate reasoning that draws proper recommendations and implications from the facts
  4. Accurate and clear language which is virtually impossible to misinterpret

B. Learn to be brief

Most people do not have time to read huge amounts in terms of volume.
And most people would not want to even if they did have the time.

So keep your business writing brief.
Just make sure that everything you do write has a purpose and is worth reading!

C. Learn to be clear

Clarity comes from having the right degree of detail and reasoning.

If you are too brief and cut out too much, then your meaning could be compromised.

If you are too explicit, and put in too much detail, then the clarity is swamped.

Be as brief as possible whilst maintaining accuracy and clarity.


If you are looking to improve your communication skills, we offer a comprehensive Communication Skills Training Course.

About the Author: Chris Farmer

Chris

Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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