Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10 000 hours practise to master a skill. Fabulous! Assuming you practise for two hours a day, five days a week, it would take about 20 years to perfect.
Writing is a valuable marketing skill. If you communicate your ideas clearly, people will want to hear more. Write great content for your website and you’ll engage your visitors; showcase your expertise in white papers and you’ll grow your professional reputation; put together a well-structured proposal and you’ll improve your success rate.
But since you probably don’t want to wait twenty years before you write your next proposal, here are eight tips to help you improve your writing.
1. Jump right in
Don’t agonise over the first paragraph, editing and re-editing, just get started. Write down what you want to say, and worry about the language and style later. You can move paragraphs around and make sure the flow is right once you have your content under control.
2. Keep it clear and concise
Don’t confuse elaborate language with good writing. Use the same words you’d use when speaking to your audience. Even formal communication should be as easy to read and understand.
3. Mix up your sentence length
Short sentences are easier to read. Too many short sentences make your writing abrupt. Vary the pace with a mixture of long and short sentences, and use conjunctions (joining words like and, but and because) to smooth the flow.
4. Use the active voice
I was taught at school that the passive voice is more appropriate for written communication. That’s not true. The active voice is more direct and simpler to read. “I presented the proposal to the Board” is clearer than “The proposal was presented to the board by me.”
(Or the more common, but incorrect, “The proposal was presented to the board by myself.”) Interestingly, a style guide published in 1919 agrees with me on this, so it’s not that a more relaxed writing style has evolved over time, it’s simply better.
5. Use a dictionary
Spelling errors and bad grammar make you look unprofessional and unreliable. Spell-check will make sure you use real words, but can’t tell you if you’re using the right word. So if you’re not sure whether to use past instead of passed, or lose instead of loose, refer to a good, old-fashioned dictionary. (Or an online version, if you prefer.)
6. Write for your audience
You don’t use the same tone to your grandmother as you do to your poker group. Modify your tone to suit your audience.
Even Stephen King rewrites his work several times; why would you expect your first draft to be perfect? Rewrite until you are happy to publish.
Always take a break before proof-reading your final article. Leave it overnight if you have time as fresh eyes will pick up errors far more easily. Alternatively, get a colleague to proof-read it for you.