While good writing may come easily to some and not so easily to others, everyone’s writing can always stand improvement. Even the greatest writers of all time had to edit their works.
But editing your own writing is a tough task. You know exactly what you meant when you wrote it, so your mind can easily fill in any gaps and see past any errors. Your readers won’t have that same advantage though. For your readers’ sakes, you need to be willing to cut and change your words, a job that can be painful but will end up being very rewarding.
Whether you’re writing a college paper, updating your personal blog, drafting a landing page, or writing a proposal for work, the following writing hacks will instantly improve your writing. No matter how good your writing is now, you’ll be impressed by the difference these tips make.
1. Change passive voice to active voice
This is a grammar lesson everyone learns in either high school or college, but very few people recognize its potential power. If you can grab hold of this one tip and apply it to every single piece of your writing, your work will stand out from everyone else’s. And eventually, doing this will come so naturally, you’ll start doing it in your first draft instead of in your edits.
Simply put, when a sentence is in active voice, the subject is doing the action (verb) in the sentence. In passive voice, the action is being done to the subject.
Passive: Amelia was drenched by the rain.
Active: The rain drenched Amelia.
Using active voice makes your sentences more powerful and often makes them shorter. While this may be an annoyance when you’re trying to reach a certain word count, your writing’s improved quality will more than make up for the trouble.
Active voice is often easier to read than passive voice. It’s easier to digest and allows readers to move through your writing faster and with less effort—a major goal in any kind of writing but particularly in marketing. Your readers will be more apt to actually enjoy reading your writing, because they aren’t having to work as hard to get through it anymore. (Just ask your teacher, boss, readers, etc.)
If you need to refresh your memory about this grammar lesson, practice with this simple, short worksheet.
2. Delete, delete, delete
If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.
Ouch! No one likes to delete sentences or whole sections they’ve labored over. But if you want your writing to serve its purpose, you must be ruthless with your editing. Don’t get so attached to your words that you can’t revise or cut them for the sake of your project as a whole.
Do you have to delete an exact amount? No, but it’s useful to set a goal for yourself. When you try to condense your writing by a set number of words, you force yourself to accept that some of your words are less vital than others. By admitting this, you give your mind permission to identify the weak spots in your writing.
Just because you delete something, doesn’t mean it was bad. It could have been the most elegantly worded sentence in the entire world. But if it doesn’t serve the express purpose of your project, it’s just clutter distracting from the truly important parts.
3. Eliminate adverbs
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Ok, Mr. King may be speaking a bit facetiously here, but the point is obvious—using too many adverbs is bad.
So what do you replace them with? Better verbs. A specific verb can say in one word what a weak verb and its adverb-in-crime say in two. Writers should try to use fewer words without compromising their message. And replacing adverbs with more precise verbs accomplishes this goal beautifully.
Stephen ate his food quickly. ⇒ Stephen devoured his food.
The dog behaved very badly. ⇒ The dog behaved atrociously.
Did your mind paint a better picture when you read the original sentence or its revision? A well-chosen verb can enhance your writing far more than a slapped-on adverb can.
Does this mean you should never use adverbs? Well, no. Adverbs have their time and place. For example, look at one of my recent sentences—A well-chosen verb can enhance your writing far more than a slapped-on adverb can.
I used two adverbs to help me say that adverbs can weaken your sentence! Was that hypocritical of me? Did I use them in error? No to both. In that sentence, both adverbs play an important role. More is showing there’s a comparison, so it’s vital to the sentence. Far is adding meaning to more, showing the extent of the comparison. Both adverbs are fundamental to the purpose of the sentence.
So, yes, you can use adverbs. But only when they are vital to the sentence’s purpose.
Tip: Avoid using very as much as possible. It’s been so overused that it’s lost its significance and won’t paint the picture you’re wanting to portray.
4. Use Grammarly
This free tool will do your proofreading for you. Simply paste your work into its system (or write it there originally) to receive fast correction suggestions for over 250 types of grammar errors. It also runs a plagiarism check.
When you install the Grammarly web browser extension, you can get feedback on online writing such as your Facebook updates, blog posts, or email drafts without even having to open the Grammarly site.
Download Grammarly for Microsoft Office to use it with Word and Outlook. It’s better than most spell checkers, because it recognizes contextual spelling errors.
5. Use the Hemingway Editor
If Grammarly is your proofreader, then Hemingway is your editor. This free tool will take your writing’s quality one step further. It doesn’t focus on mechanics like punctuation and spelling. Instead, it picks up stylistic problems such as the before-mentioned passive voice, overall readability, and use of adverbs.
Create your work in the Hemingway tool or paste it in from somewhere else to get feedback.
If you find yourself using this tool extensively, you can download the Hemingway App for $20 and get offline access, one-click publishing options with WordPress and Medium, and more.
Tip: To ensure your work has been checked for both mechanical and stylistic errors, use both Grammarly and Hemingway.
Thanks for reading! By the way – if you enjoyed this article, you may also like 2016’s Best Articles about Writing.