Anyone Can Write and Everyone Can Write Better

Jeff Toth, Marketing & Communications Lead, IBAO

My role at the IBAO is mostly writing. My role within this magazine is no exception, but I also end up asking a lot of people to write things for me. Most of these people haven’t written a magazine article before and often when I first ask them to contribute, they say no, likely out of self-consciousness. But in today’s world, we’re all constantly required to write, whether it’s emails, texts or social media posts—even your crazy conspiracy theorist uncle writes! Writing is nothing to be scared of. It doesn’t matter what medium you’re writing for, good writing is good writing and the same rules apply across the board. There’s no need to be nervous if you follow these principles.

Just Write

I know as well as anyone how daunting a blank page can be. But if you just grit your teeth and start putting your thoughts down, eventually you’ll have something to work with. Don’t even go into writing something with the thought that your first draft will be good (it won’t). Your first draft is slapping together fistfuls of wet clay into a shape vaguely resembling your idea. Not until the next step will you carve it into something recognizable, or maybe even beautiful. 

Edit, Edit, Edit

Whether you’re writing for a public audience or a single recipient, you should always give your writing an editing pass—not just for grammatical correctness, but to see if you can say things more clearly. Do one editing pass focusing solely on how many words you can remove. You’ll be surprised how much better you can articulate things on second or third thought. More than using $10 words or complex sentence structures, the number one thing that will make your writing sound confident and intelligent is clarity. 

Write in the Active Voice

We’ll have to go back to elementary school grammar for this next part. In sentences written in the active voice, the subject—the who of the sentence—performs an action: The boy threw the ball. You can tell who threw the ball the whole time. Passive voice obscures the subject of a sentence. To use a famous example, politicians who want to avoid responsibility might say, “Mistakes were made.” Oh really? Made by whom? Even worse than being unclear, passive voice is boring to read. The second half of the article rightfully went unread. 

Use Strong Verbs 

Once you’ve written a draft, go through it highlighting all the verbs and ask yourself if there’s a better one to use in each case. Since verbs are action words, they lend a lot of the life to your writing. Especially take note when you’ve had to use an adverb to supplement your verb. You can strongly recommend or instead you could just endorse or urge or advocate. Being deliberate with your verb choice enables you to get your point across in a more evocative way without adding words or maybe even using fewer words. 

Grab Your Red Pen

The best way to get better at writing, like anything, is practice. The second best way is editing other people’s writing. It’s easier to see the flaws in other people’s writing, (and other people generally!) When you read something that strikes you as bad, consider what makes it bad. Learning what not to do is sometimes more actionable than trying to implement abstract best practices. 

So, if I ever ask you to write something for the magazine, please say yes! There’s nothing to be afraid of. We can make it great together! And if you have a great idea for an article, reach out—

1 Comment
  1. Hello Jeff.
    I enjoyed your article.
    Perhaps you could write a paper on the proper usage of your, and you’re. For good measure you could mention that there is no ‘s’ on regard when used as “with regard to”.
    It might also be good to let people know that their very casual way of addressing and responding to emails, could be detrimental if their records are every called into court, and spelling may count!

    Joanne Cheatley

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