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If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now

If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now
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William Strunk Jr. in the classic book Elements of Style said:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

If you want to write as best as you can, respond clearly and powerfully to your readers’ needs and make every word tell–whether you are writing a short story, blog post, business letter or e-mail–you must watch how you write. It doesn’t matter what your cultural or educational background is, do these little, painless things from today to quickly improve your writing and dramatically enhance effectiveness of your communication.

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1. Read more—as much and as often as you can.

Read authors, bloggers, reporters and any other types of writers you can find. Study their language, sentence and grammar use to learn what works. This will not only improve your vocabulary and use of proper syntax and grammar, but also broaden your world view, excite your imagination, arouse your curiosity and stimulate your creativity. When you read, you expose yourself to interesting topics, experiences, cultures and can tap into the minds of creative thinkers. Besides that, reading is enjoyable and therapeutic. Fit it into your hectic life and it will help you relax and unwind.

2. Write daily—at least 15 minutes every day.

“The secret of becoming a writer,” Jerry Pournelle says, “is that you have to write.” He is right. It doesn’t matter how much you write, just write every day. Writing everyday is the best way to practice the craft and improve how you think. It also helps you form a writing habit. Find your own pace and write for three hours, half an hour or even just 15 minutes a day. You don’t have to write 40 printed pages a day, but you do need to make sure you write at least 15 minutes each day. If you can’t think of something to write about, keep a personal diary or journal and update it daily.

3. Write in plain English.

No matter how complex or technical your subject is, write your message in the most direct, easy-to-understand and concise way possible. Don’t assault your readers’ intelligence and patience with bloated vocabularies, pretentious jargon and extraneous ideas. Employ familiar, everyday words to facilitate reader enjoyment and comprehension. For instance, instead of writing ‘eliminate,’ write ‘end.’ The word ‘end’ is shorter, punchier and more familiar with people around the world. It reduces chances of confusion and misinterpretation of your intended meaning.

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4. Separate the writing and editing processes.

Separating the writing and editing processes allows you adequate time, space and quiet necessary to complete both tasks successfully. Focus on writing your message down uninhibited at first draft. Address surface level issues of grammar, style and typos later during the editing stage. There is no shame in writing a bad first draft just as long as you set aside plenty of time to edit later. Author Cecil Castellucci says it best: “The best flowers are fertilized by crap.”

5. Open with your main idea.

State your main idea–or at least give a strong hint of your main message–in the first few opening sentences. Don’t keep the reader waiting and guessing for too long about what you are writing about. People are impatient and won’t stick around to read through your ramblings. Similarly, avoid opening your writing with strings of generic sentences. Instead of saying Chicago is a ‘big city,’ open with something unique about Chicago that cannot be said of most other cities. For example, you could say Chicago is the ‘windy city.’ You can’t say that of other cities in the U.S.

6. Vary your sentence length, structures and types.

Varying sentence length, types and structures helps you avoid monotony and allows you to provide emphasis where appropriate. Use short sentences to emphasize an idea and create a punch. Use longer sentences to define, illustrate or explain ideas. Also, blend simple, compound and complex sentences, as well as including occasional commands and question to spice up your writing. Keep in mind that writing is more than just meaning—it’s also about sounds and can be about visual appearance on paper or screen as well.

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7. Use concrete words.

Concrete words are terms for things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, such as table, hot and dancing. Stick to concrete words and avoid abstract terms as much as possible. Abstract words and phrases are not available to the senses and point to personal opinion, such as “great,” “wonderful” and “one of the best.” These abstract terms often represent mere rhetoric. Just because you say something is “great” doesn’t mean everyone else thinks the same way. If you must use abstract words, qualify them with concrete evidence from reliable sources.

8. Trim everything down.

When editing or revising your work, eliminate any unnecessary words and phrases in your text to ensure your words get straight to the point rather than beating about the bush or being boastful, pushy or fluffy. Nothing shouts “armature” than using extraneous, wordy terms and phrases in your writing. Instead of writing ‘owing to the fact that’ or ‘due to the fact that,’ just say ‘since’ or ‘because.’ Similarly, instead of saying, ‘bring the matter to a conclusion’, just say ‘conclude.’ Trimming everything down makes your writing easy to consume and understand. It simply improves readability.

9. Consider the reader’s agenda.

Don’t start to write until you know who exactly you are writing for. Who is your target audience? What problem or need do they have? What gender are they? Where in the world are they located? What is in it for them? Will this solve their problem? It is never enough to only factor in your own agenda when writing. Always weave into your work the audience’s agenda and pack as much value in there for them as possible. If you can do this, the battle is half won. You are already a decent, conscientious writer.

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10.   Break any of these rules.

We write to express ourselves, as much as to inform, educate and entertain. Don’t take yourself or writing too seriously. Relax and have fun expressing yourself. When you are relaxed and having fun, you won’t be dull or unnecessarily clever. You will write naturally without worrying about pleasing everyone. Your readers will get value from your words and enjoy reading them. And, as George Orwell advised in his Rules for Writers, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Featured photo credit: Rubin Starset via flickr.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Published on July 27, 2021

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

Put the Pro in Professional

After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

2. Dress the Part

While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

3. Stage Your Workspace

Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

5. Arrive on Time

In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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6. Turn on Your Video

Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

Attend to the Pesky Details

8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

Talking Has a Time and a Place

11. Chat Appropriately

Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

Manage Yourself

14. Minimize Distractions

While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

15. Save Snacking for Later

Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

Final Thoughts

Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Reference

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