Five Simple Ways a Writer Can Improve His Impact


Writing is easy.

It’s something many people forget because freelance writing can be a self-defeating endeavor even for those with strong academic skills. It isn’t like completing a math problem where everything has a logical place and you’re guaranteed to do fine so long as the dots are properly connected.

Writing is the brooding cousin of painting. Whereas painters use brush strokes to convey an image, writers craft visions with words. The picture is framed by words designed to influence the reader’s perception of whatever is being conveyed. Word choice and flow are important in capturing and maintaining the reader’s interest.

In the course of more than a decade as a full-time writer – mostly for U.S. metropolitan daily newspapers – I have learned from extremely talented wordsmiths who passed on practical advice.

Their tips will help fine-tune your writing for maximum clarity and effect:

• Keep it simple, stupid! This design principle dictates use of sentences that are focused and clear. Any writer is more likely to get into trouble using long sentences with complex punctuation. Clunky sentences should be divided up so they are easier to read. Writing this way helps build and maintain momentum.

• What’s in it for me? It’s an old sales adage, but it applies equally well in writing. By the third or fourth paragraph at the latest, the writer must answer this question for the reader or risk losing their attention. In general, people want to be led and the writer must be firm in explaining why the article has value. This “nut graph” spells out, in one or two sentences, why the article is important and relevant to the reader.

• Word echoes are redundant. This one can be tricky, especially for those writing Search Engine Optimized content that relies on repetitive use of keywords. But even SEO has a limit. Generally speaking, an echo is when a writer uses the same word more than once in a sentence, or even paragraph. Repetitive use of words –except for search engine optimization – is boring and distracting. Avoid doing this at all costs.

• That “that” has got to go. In many cases, use of “that” is unnecessary and should be avoided. It may seem trivial, but “that” acts in a similar fashion as “umm” – overuse detracts from the author’s message. For example: “I hope that we go to the baseball game” should instead read, “I hope we go to the baseball game.”

• Read it out loud. Even after writing, editing and conducting a spelling and grammar check, it’s still not time to hit the send button. Read it out loud. This simple act is a perfect way to catch – with fresh ears – errors that may have been missed by fatigued mind and eyes. Reading every sentence out loud also helps identify awkward word arrangements that may slow the reader and cause them to veer off-course.

J.P. Cawyer is an east coast-based professional writer. When he isn’t mulling the dictums of the written word, he enjoys playing on his Galaxy S and the iPad.


  1. chris says

    Nice suggestions. That said, I disagree with the opening line about writing being easy. VERY GOOD writing is not easy no matter one’s talent.

  2. says

    A writer can broaden “his” impact by not using exclusionary language that suggests women are not writers and makes them automatically uninterested in “his” article, as “he” clearly thinks it does not apply to them.

    I know someone is going to accuse me of being pedantic — as though “Five Simple Ways Writers Can Improve Their Impact” just wouldn’t have worked — but my god, it is 2011.

  3. chris says


    100% agree. Your title suggestion would have worked just as well — and turned nobody off. There is NO excuse in this day and age for this type of title. A title, of all things! Titles are usually doubled-checked — and, should be, according to this very article, read out loud. Granted, if an article has many places where a “he/she” would be needed, I can see someone (perhaps) occasionally just using “he” or alternating pronouns, as too many “he/she” look clunky.

  4. chris says

    I take the good and throw out the bad. The “that” point in this piece was very good, so thank you, author. I know I have a tendency to do it, and sometimes even check my pieces afterwards using a search for “that.” Along a similar line, I often see people mixing up “that” and “which.” One of my big personal pet perves: people using “that” when “who” is appropriate. A person is a “who.”

    *****A personal recommendation for a TERRIFIC and BRIEF read (audiotape also available), aptly titled, ON WRITING WELL. A key point is that often an article can be chopped by 50% and lose no pertinent content or tone.


    The classic works on the art of nonfiction writing are now in a complete package for your listening pleasure.
    This expanded CD collection presents William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, the classic teaching book that has sold more than 1 million copies, together with a new 90-minute section that tells you how to write a memoir.

    Based on a course that Zinsser taught at Yale, On Writing Well has long been praised by writers, teachers and students for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It’s for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day. Whether you want to write about people and places, science and technology, business, sports or the arts, this is the definitive guide to the craft of nonfiction.

    Part II of this collection – on memoir, personal history and family history – tells you in helpful detail how to write the story of your life: who you are, who you once were, and what heritage you come from.

  5. says

    Eliminating “that” is great. In general, I try to omit any word or phrase that doesn’t add meaning. For example, “in order to” can be “to” and “really” is almost always just empty calories.

    Another one: only use a comma if it helps clarify your meaning. I see a lot of comma scattering and it slows down reading and distracts my attention from the message.
    Bill Kerschbaum´s last blog post ..Why the iPad User Guide Matters


  1. […] worthy is subjective and relative. The only way to tell if you’re a good writer is to measure the impact you have on your readers. Did you offer a solution to an everyday problem? Did you persuade them to change or improve? Did […]

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