I have hired dozens of freelance writers in my role as an in-house copywriter for a content conversion firm, and it never ceases to amaze me how many writers lack basic writing skills. Whether you’ve been a freelance writer for two months or ten years, there are always ways to improve your craft. Here are some specifics things writers can do to strengthen their writing:
Use “is” Sparingly
The most valuable lesson I took away from my upper graduate English coursework involves use of the word “is.” Here’s how it goes: if you can rework a sentence to remove use of the word “is,” you will create a stronger sentence. Consider the following examples:
- The violin is brown.
- The brown violin sounds beautiful.
Placing the adjective before the noun creates a clause, making the sentence more complex and descriptive.
- The reader is given new information from the text.
- The reader gets new information from the text.
The first example above uses the dreaded passive voice. By removing “is given” and changing the verb to the present tense, we remove passive voice and get a clearer sentence.
Just Say no to “due to” and “because of”
Removing these two weak phrases will vastly improve your writing. Take the noun or phrase that follows “due to” or “because of” and make it the subject of your sentence.
- Weak Sentence: Due to the economy, he foreclosed on his house.
- Better Sentence: The economy made him foreclose on his house.
- Even Better Sentence: The economy ruined his credit rating.
- Best Sentence: Being upside down in his mortgage caused John to foreclose on his home, which ruined his credit rating.
The last example is the best sentence because it answers the reason why John had to foreclose on his house.
Be Clear and Concise
Clearly communicating ideas is a key goal for every writer. We live in a fast-paced, information packed world. As writers, we have to quickly convert people to read our content. If readers have to work to figure out what you’re trying to say, you’ve lost them. If people won’t read our words, they won’t click where we want them to, like our latest article, or buy our work.
Tip: If a sentences doesn’t flow naturally when you read it aloud, odds are it won’t make sense to your reader.
Have you ever had an editor write “fluff” or “too wordy” in the margin of your writing? I have. While it is difficult criticism to take, your editor isn’t saying you’re too wordy to criticize your writing – she’s trying to help you improve.
One quick way to reduce wordiness is to use adverbs (words ending in ly) sparingly. Most of the time these qualifiers aren’t necessary. If you are going to use them, make sure they have a purpose. When you eliminate adverbs, your point comes across stronger and more direct. Take a look at this short list of fluffy words to avoid:
Too Many Prepositions
Prepositions have their place in writing, but frequent use forces the reader to struggle to figure out your point. Examples of prepositions include:
Combat overuse of prepositions by circling each one. Once you have identified and circled the offenders, ask yourself what the point of the sentence is and reword with fewer prepositions identify the sentence’s point and reword.
What tips have you received from an editor that helped you improve your writing?
Sarah is the Content Manager and a Writer at Virtual Vocations, the one-stop shop for telecommuters looking for legit jobs. With several years of marketing and writing experience, Sarah managed a group of freelance writers for a marketing firm before venturing out into the telecommute world. Follow Sarah on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.
John Packer says
The ABCs of journalism: Accuracy. Brevity, Clarity.
Luana @ WritersMind.eu says
A spare ‘really’ or an ‘actually’, well-placed and in-context, are helpful. 🙂 Just not when the article is filled with those and much more!
Thanks for a nice reminder of what a good piece is NOT made of. ^_~
~ Luana S.
“Best Sentence: Being upside down in his mortgage caused John to foreclose on his home, which ruined his credit rating.”
Really? I can’t say I actually understand what this means. What does “being upside down in his mortgage” look like? I’m assuming, based on the previous examples, it means that he couldn’t pay it… but why not just say that?
Diane Matthews says
I agree with you and was thinking the same thing. I think “being upside down on his mortgage” is too vague of a statement. It is muddy and lacks clarity. I think the 3rd sentence was the best one, in my opinion.
Barbara Saunders says
I think the whole example was weak. First, those sentences have different meanings. Second, “the economy made him” is clunky as is starting the sentence with that gerund phrase. Third, that third sentence is too long and contains too many ideas at once.
Not to mention, John wouldn’t foreclose on his home. John’s bank might, but John wouldn’t.
Thank you for sharing your insights. Are there any online copywriting courses or valuable resources that you could recommend for those wanting to improve their writing?
How do you gain confidence as a writer? Sometimes my fear of making mistakes has lead to very plain writing. 🙁
Sarah Rivkind says
CopyBlogger has some great online advice available to writers. I’ve found their articles very helpful. The best advice I can give you is to keep writing. You’ll get better the more you do it!
Thank you, Sarah! I will definitely take a look at their archives. 😉
Sarah Rivkind says
Thanks everyone for your comments. Don’t take the examples too literally. I manipulated the words to prove a point.