If you’re making new year’s resolutions, it can’t hurt to add one about improved communication. To help, I’ve rounded up some easy targets for your better writing practice. From chilling your tone to selecting the right word, here are five ways to improve your presence in print before you write a single sentence:
- Stop screaming! I mean, stop screaming. You may think that employing an exclamation point adds excitement to your message. You may even be of a more- the-merrier mindset!!! In reality, you come off sounding like a cross between Donald Trump having a Twitter tantrum and the thank-you note my six-year-old niece sent me for her My Little Pony Luxury Stable/Salon. There is a place for exclamation points in good writing; only those who have proven their punctuational temperance should be trusted with this information.
- Less is more. As with exclamation points, so with verbiage. Overwriting does not make you sound smarter. It has the opposite effect. When readers have to dig out salient facts from your pile of words, only to find in the end that they’ve excavated multiple versions of the same point, they will obliterate the memory of that unpleasant experience (and you) by pouring over their Facebook feeds, Snickers® in hand, also known as self-medicating.
- Engage emotions. Are you an attorney? Unless you’re writing a legal brief, there’s no reason to sound like a wind-bag. If you opt in to passive voice in the belief that it makes you sound erudite, 2016 would be a good year to rethink that premise.
- Proofread what you write. We all rely on spell-check to correct our atrocious spelling—at least we should. But spell-check isn’t failsafe. And it’s not good at grammar. It can also change words that you didn’t want changed. You might not care if you repeated the word “bitten” in three consecutive sentences and used multiple exclamation points in the text to your dog walker, but you should be scrupulous with anything you don’t compose with your thumbs, like the ensuing correspondence with your attorney or your Home page copy.
- Farther or further? Nothing makes you look like more of a dub than using the wrong word. While many words are abused in this respect, let’s start with these two. “Farther” is a term that describes distance, used as a comparative of “far,” and can be paired with words and phrases such as “walked,” “skipped,” or “flew a drone.” “Further” is used figuratively, as a preamble to an overwritten piece of text for example.
Best wishes for a brilliant new year. May your writing always meet its mark.