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5 Easy Steps to Make Your Writing Stand Out

5 Easy Steps to Make Your Writing Stand Out

Writing is complicated. I mean, at first it doesn’t really seem that way since it’s just words on a page, but to really craft something meaningful and interesting take training, dedication, and a pinch of talent. I don’t purport to have that last thing, but I do try to keep my skills up to snuff. But enough about me. How can you improve your writing? In many ways, that’s an incredibly difficult question to answer. I was once a teaching assistant for a writing class, and often my colleagues and I would argue about how exactly we should go about helping students improve their writing. I don’t know if we ever came to a definitive answer, but I can give you some of the basics that will help your writing reach levels you’ve never dreamed of previously.

1. Don’t fret about your grammar.

Sure, it’s important that your writing flows well and is easy to read. But the mistake many make when first starting to write is that they focus far too much on the structure of their piece, and not on its substance. Do I want to read a well-written article about something uninteresting, or an intriguing article with a few mistakes here or there? The answer should be pretty obvious. Yes, your goal should be to combine great grammar and structure with an interesting topic, but that takes time and lots of practice. When you’re just starting out, you need to cut yourself some slack and concentrate on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. The style and grammar will come in time.

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2. Stay focused.

The key to any form of writing is to pick one topic or argument and stick with it. In academic writing, you’d be hard pressed to find a Ph.D. who strays too far from his or her initial thesis. Likewise, in an article that’s about improving your writing, I’m not going to start talking about basketball and video games.

One expert, Jeff Goins, describes this process as narrowing your audience. As a writer, you can’t be all things to all people. The best works are written with a specific focus in mind, and it is that focus that attracts a specific group of readers. Interestingly enough, sticking to one topic or argument also tends to attract people from outside of your target audience. For example, if I was writing a political article in favor of some part of the Republican Party’s agenda, not only would I get Republican readers who agree with me, but I would also attract Democrats who disagree with my contention. By narrowing your audience and preventing yourself from becoming too broad in your writing, you become more interesting (and controversial) to readers. This leads me to my next point…

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3. Make your points arguable.

Going back to Jeff Goins, he calls what I described in the last paragraph the “paradox of specific writing.” I disagree with him in terms of why that paradox exists, however. He postulates that if an article is popular amongst one group, they’ll be bound to share it with their friends, who often belong to other groups. That might be the case sometimes, but I also think the paradox exists because people like reading things they disagree with, if only because they are interested in hearing a new point of view, or are angered in some way by the author’s contentions. This phenomenon can be seen in the comments section of Goins’ article, where you can witness a smattering of people arguing against some of his points in a friendly manner.

Case in point, I was attracted to the paradox section of his article because, while I agreed with it for the most part, I had a bit of a different stance that I wished to share with you. You might have a different view than I, and may be compelled to comment on this article to give your side of the story. That’s the magic of writing though. It’s supposed to be arguable, flexible even. The best a writer can do is pick a stance, find evidence, sprinkle in some of their own experiences, and present it to the public. When doing that, you’ll always find people who don’t entirely agree, and that’s great because they’ll be nearly as interested in reading your work as those who do agree.

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4. Edit your work once, twice, maybe three times.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret I learned long ago and is reaffirmed in a great piece I read about writing marketable articles: “great writing never happens on the first draft.” In fact, if you read the first drafts of most professional writers you’d probably laugh and think you could do better. This ties into the point I made above about grammar. You should not care about how your writing sounds when you’re first putting it on the page. What matters is that you’re writing from your heart, that the words are flowing from your brain onto the page as easily as they flow from your mouth. First drafts are almost like semi-directed freewrites. I usually just let it rip on my first draft, and I’m one of the most picky people I know when it comes to correcting errors in my work as soon as I see them. Often, what separates a good article from a bad one is the amount of times it has been edited. One pass is usually good enough to catch spelling and punctuation errors. Two passes will see that your style is consistent, and that everything flows nicely. Three passes is good for catching all of the minor things that most will miss. For longer works, like 50-page theses or books, more passes are required to make sure everything fits together.

The key thing here is that your brain is smart enough to get what you want to say onto paper, if you give it the chance. Sure, it might not sound great, but look at it this way: once the basic content is on the page, the rest is just the simple act of proofreading and making stylistic adjustments where necessary. Easy peasy, right?

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5. Write an impactful conclusion.

Remember back in high school when your English teacher told you that a conclusion was basically a rehash of your introduction? Well, that’s kind of true. As you become more experienced though, you’ll start adding layers onto that general concept. The main thing you’ll want to hit upon at the end of an article is the significance of it all. Why was it important that you just read this? What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things? In the words of the experts, how did the readers “benefit from the information you provided?” As a history major, I spent a lot of time talking about the significance of the arguments I made in essays. It’s the sort of the thing that lets the reader know that the information they took in had some meaning, that it was more than a mindless collection of words and clever phrases.

Let’s put that theory to the test. What was the point of this article? Why should you remember it beyond the next few minutes? I think the answer is quite simple: everyone has to be a writer at some point or another, whether it be in e-mails, articles, essays, or a novel. Being a good writer isn’t easy, I admit that, but if you follow the basic tenets, it’s easy to improve. Everybody has the potential to write about something, to take one of their experiences and transform it into a fantastic article. Why not give it a try? With the knowledge you’ve gained with this article, you now have the tools you need to go out and start a blog of your own, or keep a personal diary, or write an essay on U.S. politics–whatever you wish! Your voice matters, and writing helps you get it out there in a way that everyone, even those who disagree with you, will appreciate.

Featured photo credit: Writing Tools/Pete O’Shea via flickr.com

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Last Updated on December 2, 2018

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

1. Connecting them with each other

Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

2. Connect with their emotions

Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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3. Keep going back to the beginning

Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

4. Link to your audience’s motivation

After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

5. Entertain them

While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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6. Appeal to loyalty

Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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