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Last Updated on August 11, 2017

From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

Writing well is one of those things that’s seen to be hard to do or only a skill possessed by people with a natural talent. Trying to convey stories and thoughts in a constructive and flowing manner can leave many people feeling frustration and lack of real ability.

But I’m here to tell you that, as a fan of life hacks, I believe anyone can become a great writer with the right knowledge.

Making the transition from engineer to writer over the past 10 years, I’ve come across many of the common issues people encounter when they write and discovered the writing tips to allow them to write 10 times better.

We Aren’t Really Taught How to Write Well in School

Don’t feel disheartened if writing doesn’t come naturally to you. In this online age, more of us have the opportunity to put our ideas out there but struggle to know where to start when we sit down to do it.

One reason is we aren’t really taught how to write well in school. Much of the emphasis is put on grammar rules and fluency instead of developing the ability to write appealing and influential work.

Writing is also the part of language skill learning that requires creativity compared to speaking, listening, and reading, making it a more challenging skill to develop. Speaking, for example, has a creative aspect but it doesn’t have the same need for precision as writing where even a single connective should be considered carefully in order to create a coherent and well-written piece of work.

The Common Difficulties People Have When Writing

For anyone who’s sat down to write something profound or even just to get their points across in an effective manner will have experienced those common feelings of writer’s block. These usually manifest as:

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  • Having no ideas to write
  • Not knowing where to start
  • Not knowing how to organise any ideas you do have
  • Not knowing how to write words in an appealing way
  • Taking too long to finish a piece of writing and getting demotivated

When we experience these, our writing often suffers becoming fragmented, simple and shallow. The flow can become messy and hard to follow and in danger of even being boring and ordinary.

The Hacks You Need to Follow to Unlock Your Writing Potential

There are several things to keep in mind when you sit down to write and by following these hacks, you can steer your writing to that of flow, appeal and coherency.

Don’t Google General Ideas on Your Topic

Trying to think of ideas can be the first hurdle for many people. If you have a particular topic (for example “how to think positively”) and you feel stuck for ideas, don’t automatically search google with your general topic. Instead, try to narrow down the scope first because google will only spit out very generic and clichéd tips that people have written time and time again.

Instead, ask yourself certain questions that will elicit the answer from within.

  • Why do we need to think positively?
  • What happens to our brains when we think positively?
  • What’s the difference between people who think positively and people who think negatively?
  • What are the mindsets we need to change before we can think positively?
  • What are some daily habits we can build to think more positively?

Brainstorming helps narrow down your topic and create different points to elaborate in your writing. Readers of your work will then feel that you’re really making good points.

Don’t Dwell on the Beginning, Focus on the Body

When we read things, the headline is what gets our attention which leads us to the main body of the writing. As a writer, this is the other way around.

When writing, the key is to write the main content first and then tune the headline accordingly. But this should also be applied to the introduction – focus on the main content and points first so you know the heart of what you’re writing about and then think about the beginning in relation to it.

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Design the Flow Like Designing a Drama: The Model AIDA

Getting your words to flow can be one of the hardest challenges. There’s a marketing and advertising model called AIDA which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

This strategy can also be applied to writing to create a good sense of structure and flow in order to get readers interested instead of merely throwing information at them. So keep this in mind when creating your content.

Avoid Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist could be a massive disadvantage when it comes to your writing.

We all want our work to be perfect but this can lead to the temptation to rewrite paragraphs once you start the next one which can be detrimental to the overall piece. This creates a lack of time and while your introduction may be spot on, the rest of your writing can end up disappointing your readers.

Editing is an important part of the process but leave this until the end when you can see the big picture rather than doing it as you go.

The key is getting your ideas down in an organised manner.  Worry about any changes once these are down.  Don’t get so attached to your first draft – as Hemingway famously said “the first draft of everything is shit.”

Replace Vague Words with Concrete Ones

Try avoiding bland and general words in your writing. Instead, think about more descriptive words that make your piece sound more attractive. If you write ‘good’ ask yourself how good? Could it be wonderful, exceptional or excellent? Could ‘bad’ be atrocious, lousy, inadequate? Or could ‘a lot’ be a massive amount, tons or plentiful?

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Using more descriptive and imaginative words will help engage the reader and give your writing more life.

Remove Fillers and Redundant Words

When we speak, we naturally use filler words like: ‘some kind of’, ‘sort of’, ‘to start with’, ‘due to the fact that’, ‘I believe’, ‘in terms of’ and ‘in order to’.

While it’s common to use these types of fillers and redundant words, they can actually decrease your credibility because they make the reader feel that you’re adding no meaning to a sentence and can give the impression your logic is lacking.

For example: All of the people rushed to get the train can be better read as All the people rushed to get the train.

In the process of starting my company, I hired three new members of staff would be better written as When I started my company, I hired three new members of staff.

Fillers and redundant words make your writing conversational but if you’re creating more informative content, avoid fillers at all costs.

Always Choose Simpler Words Over Convoluted Ones

With all kinds of writing whether formal or informal, it’s a good idea to avoid long and more difficult words.

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You may think using simple words is a no-no especially when, at school, we’re often taught to write as descriptive as possible. But while this may be good for story-telling, other forms of writing tend to have the intention of getting a message across and simple words are more effective.

For example: “use” instead “utilise”, “to” instead of “in order to”, “help” instead of “facilitate”, “start” instead of “commence”.

Remember, brilliant writing is simple writing.

Design Punchlines: One Word Sentences or One Line Paragraphs

Look.

Have I got your attention now? That’s the beauty of using a single word in a paragraph. This technique is a great hook for the reader to increase their intrigue. Use this to create a sense of importance in what you’re about to write next but just make sure not to overdo it – use it only once in once piece of writing.

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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