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Good to Great: Five Fun Tips For Improving Your Writing

When you write full time, it's very easy to fall into bad habits without realizing it's happening. Like the clutter in your house, which eventually becomes "invisible," you don't see the mistakes and glitches in your own copy.

So how do you improve your writing? Here are my five proven methods -- all of which I use regularly.

  1. Let other copywriters and editors read your stuff -- Scary, I know, but having someone else go through your copy and give you feedback is invaluable. Another writer will tell you when transitions don't work or if your logic is half-baked.
  2. A few of the tips I've picked up from some of the most respected writers and editors in the business include:

    • Write action headlines -- My good friend Tom Ahern, a fundraising copywriting guru, is the one who pointed out that my newsletter headlines stunk. Talk about embarrassing. I fixed that problem - fast.
    • Eliminate words -- I learned from Anne Holland, publisher of MarketingSherpa, that repeating the same words in the first sentence that you used in the preceding sub-head is boring and hard to read. "When you're writing online content," she advised, "you have to keep it snappy."
    • Tell a story -- When David Meerman Scott, author of Cashing In With Content, read the first draft of my e-book, Turning Clicks into Leads, he told me my Introduction needed a story. "You have to draw people in," he said. His feedback turned a ho-hum intro into a great intro.

  3. Write a blog or newsletter -- I've been publishing a newsletter since 1999, and let me tell you, having an audience of fellow copywriters (such as Tom Ahern, Frances Wheeler, and Steve Slaunwhite) keeps me on my toes. Why? Because they'll email me if they find something amiss (like typos)!

    Seriously, writing about marketing communications means I work hard to ensure my articles are timely and well written. This means I usually spend at least 6 - 8 hours writing and editing my newsletter each month. It's a lot of work - but it's also made me a better writer.

  4. Map out your copy -- In his book, How to Write Fast (While Writing Well), David Fryxell states that writers who miss deadlines and produce wordy copy do so because they don't use outlines.

    "If [the writer] had a outline of his story, with his notes carefully tagged to each portion of the plan, he would know darn well how much ground he had yet to cover. . . . If you're writing a 4,500-word story and you don't know where it's going, no alarms go off in your head when you hit 3,500 words and the story's not yet half done. You don't know it's not yet half done. For all you know, you could be steaming toward the conclusion."

    You don't have to use a formal outline - notes on scratch paper work just as well. When I do research, for example, I find everything I can online, print it out, and read it while taking notes directly on the page. Then I arrange my research by topic points, mull things over a bit, and then quickly jot out my thesis and main points. Then I get to work.

    Fryxell also brings up another good tip - give yourself a word limit. Most of what I write has to adhere to specific word counts - 2,500 words, 950 words, 750 words, etc. What I do is write an excess of words and then start trimming. So the first draft of an article I wrote recently came in at a long-winded 1,200 words. By the time I was done, it was a zippy 948 words.

  5. Take a grammar class -- Do you really need to know arcane grammar rules in order to write well? The answer is, yes.

    My eyes do glaze over whenever I see discussions that use grammar terms such as "the past participle of an irregular verb" and "future perfect tense." Although I had this stuff drummed into me - first in school while studying for my English degrees, and then while teaching grammar to non-native speakers - I've forgotten most of it.

    On the other hand, you do need to know when to use "fewer" versus "less than," what is parallel construction, and why it's incorrect to state, "Between you and I." Don't know why these things are important? Find a grammar class.

  6. Get plenty of rest - Suffice to say, you can't write well if you're tired and overworked. Get your eight hours of sleep at night, take the weekends off, go on vacation, take a break and walk the dog, exercise, read books, spend time in your garden, or take your kids to a ballgame. You'll approach your writing with renewed vigor and a fresh perspective - and it will show in your energized copy.

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Dianna Huff is a B2B marketing communications consultant and copywriting expert. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, The MarCom Writer, at the DH Communications website. To download her latest free e-book, "Five B2B MarCom Strategies to Increase Sales Now," visit MarCom Writer Blog. Click here to read more articles by Dianna Huff.

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Friday March 30th 2007, 3:52 AM
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