10 Secrets For Everyday Writing Success

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During my 25-year career in a variety of professional
positions in both the private and public sectors I have
written literally thousands of letters and memos and
hundreds of reports. If I had to boil-down everything
I’ve learned about practical day-to-day writing for both
personal and business purposes into 10 key points, this
would be my “top 10 list”.

1. Preparation Is the Key

Do all of your research first, before you start to write.
Even a letter normally requires some minor research such
as making some phone calls or reviewing a file. It’s also
very important to prepare yourself mentally before writing.
So, don’t sit down to write too soon. Mull it over for
a while, sometimes a day or two, sometimes an hour or two,
depending on the complexity of the job at hand. It’s
amazing how the sub-conscious mind will work on the problem
“behind the scenes” and when you finally do start writing,
it will flow.

2. Always Use a Sample

For me, this is critical. No matter what I write, it helps
tremendously if I have some visual stimulation. If I’m
writing a letter I post a copy of a similar letter, or the
one I’m responding to, somewhere in my direct line-of-sight.
It helps me focus and keeps my mind on the subject at hand,
minimizing the tendency for my mind to wander. No matter
what it is, I always make a point to find some previous
work or a sample of work similar to what I’m doing. It
really stimulates the creative writing process and
increases productivity significantly.

3. Shorter Is Always Better

Whether you’re writing a report or a letter, look for ways
to cut it down in length. Concentrate on conveying the
essential message. If something you’ve written does not
enhance the core message, or doesn’t add value, consider
cutting it. These days, you have to be “short and to the
point” to get your message read.

4. Use Concise and Appropriate Language

Your letter or report should use simple straightforward
language, for clarity and precision. Use short sentences
and don’t let paragraphs exceed three or four sentences.
As much as possible, use language and terminology familiar
to the intended recipient. Do not use technical terms and
acronyms without explaining them, unless you are certain
that the addressee is familiar with them.

5. “Be” Your Addressee

A key technique to use when writing anything is to clearly
“visualize” your audience. As you write, try to imagine
in your mind’s eye the specific person(s) to whom your
written product is directed. I often imagine that I am
sitting across the boardroom table from my addressee,
trying to explain my points in person. Make an effort to
see the situation from the other person’s perspective.
What would you be looking to see if you were the
recipient of the letter or report?

6. Do the Outline First

Even if it’s a one-page letter, it doesn’t hurt to jot
down a few quick notes on the main points that you want to
cover. This process forces you to think logically about
exactly what you want to cover and it helps you decide in
which order you will approach your subject. For a letter
this is helpful. For a report, this is absolutely essential.
In fact, I believe that you should force yourself to go
through the entire thinking process that is required to
develop a complete draft Table of Contents, before you
start to write any report.

7. Write and Then Rewrite

No matter how much preparation I do, I always find that I
can improve on the first draft. That’s partly because when
I’m writing that first version, my main focus is to get
the essence of my thoughts down on paper. At that stage
I don’t worry about perfect phrasing, grammar or logic.
My main mission the first time through is to make sure
that I capture the critical words and phrases that form
the core meaning of what I want to communicate.

8. Format Is Important

Whatever you are writing, make sure it looks professional.
This is where proper formatting comes in. Your credibility,
and/or that of your organization, is on the line, with
your report or letter serving as your representative. If
it is not professionally formatted, it will reflect
negatively on you, even if the content is good and it is
well-written. Rightly or wrongly, the value of your work
will diminish in people’s eyes if the formatting of your
document is shoddy or amateurish looking.

9. Read It Out Loud

Some people who haven’t tried it may laugh when they read
this, but it really works. At any point during the
drafting process, but definitely at the draft final stage,
read your report or letter to yourself “out loud”. It’s
amazing what one picks up when they actually “hear” their
words as if they were being spoken to them as the
addressee. I find this helps me the most in picking up
awkward phrasing and unnecessary repetition of words or
terms.

10. Check Spelling and Grammar

Last, but far from least, make sure you double check the
spelling and grammar in your document. These days, with
spell-checkers built into word processing programs there’s
really no excuse not to do this. Once again your document
is a direct reflection of you and/or your organization.
If it is riddled with spelling mistakes and obvious
grammatical errors, it will appear unprofessional and your
credibility will suffer. Watch out for the words that
sound the same but have completely different meanings that
a spell-checker won’t pick up. Words such as “four” and
“fore”, for example. Your final read-through out loud
should catch any of these.

Whether you’re writing a letter, a memorandum, a report
or an essay, follow the above tips and you won’t go wrong.

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