Tips for Writing Effectively

While some of the best novels have been written in a 48-hour, coffee-induced stretch, most non-fiction writing requires some preliminary brainstorming, planning, and/or theorizing. The following steps can help you create the most focused, effective texts possible.

Getting the Creative Juices Flowing

When you begin to think about the writing task at hand, have an open mind. Think about the possible directions for the article, presentation, or brochure you need to generate. A brainstorming session with one’s colleagues, or even oneself and a piece of paper (!), can help you be creative and think about the product or idea in different ways. At this point, don’t be judgmental! Before rejecting ideas, write them down. You never know when they may be able to help you in the future.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day (or without a Blueprint)

An outline—even a very preliminary one—can help you during the writing process. Outlines come in all shapes and sizes. Flow-charts or graphs are great tools for those who think more visually. Others may use a more traditional outline, with numbers and bullet points to help them think through their writing process. Whatever you choose, some important questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is my purpose? – A salesperson might need to sell a product or attract customers, whereas an academic text may take on a different tone.
  • Who is my target audience? – Determining one’s target audience helps one set the tone and level of the piece. A brochure is written differently than an academic journal article; a sales pitch is different than a conference lecture. Also, remember that cultural contexts are extremely important, and understanding one’s target audience is key to making a text relevant and attractive to members of certain groups.
  • What are the necessary sections of my text? – An organized, clear text is logically divided into sections. At the least, there should be some sort of introductory section in which the purpose of the material is explained; the body of the text, in which ideas are explained in more detail; and a conclusion, including a restatement of the information/argument/pitch presented and relevant contact information. The organization and specific sections of a text will depend on the specific nature of the material and one’s purpose.

Putting your Plan into Action

The nineteenth-century English poet Matthew Arnold once said: “Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.” In many ways, though, this is easier said than done. Many times in life, we have misunderstandings. Even when we think that we have been clear with others, they misunderstand our words and our intentions. Unlike our everyday interactions, though, with the written word, we have the advantage of being able to review and edit our writing, reducing the chances of misunderstandings.

We can do this through writing freely during our first draft and only later coming back to re-write. Some people are natural “writers,” the words flowing from their pens (or keyboards) with ease. For others the writing process is more difficult. Whether you are a member of the former group or the latter, too much judgment or early proofreading can hinder the creative process. So, just start writing: express your ideas as best as possible the first time around. There will be time for editing later!

After the keyboard has cooled down a bit from your first round, read over your text again, review it, change it, and improve it. This stage should be done with two related thoughts in mind: Have I expressed my ideas clearly and concisely? Will my target audience understand what I am trying to express?

Clear writing can often be achieved by removing excess explanations, clarifying field-specific jargon, and making run-on sentences shorter and simpler. If possible, have someone proofread your text. After working with a text for some time, we often miss mistakes or assume something is clear to outside readers when it is not.

Remember, that a great final version of an article or presentation is the result of brainstorming, planning, writing, re-writing, and proofreading.

We offer assistance during all stages of the writing process—from planning and writing to editing and/or translation. Contact us for more details on how we can help you improve your articles, presentations, reports, and proposals.