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The Three Quickest (and Easiest)
Ways to Improve Your Writing

Copyright 2002 by Debra Koontz Traverso
All rights reserved in all media.

Want to improve your writing? Then set your goal to be to express, not to impress. To get you started, try these three easy tips:

1. Be brief

Robert Southey said, "If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is as with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn."

And oh, as writers, how we do want our words to burn - into the souls of our readers. Unfortunately, we often think that the more words we give, the greater that burn will be. Fact is, just the opposite is true - tightly written, colorful, descriptive, and pared-down prose will burn into readers' hearts and minds more quickly than rambling, redundant and unnecessary text.

Why? Several reasons: The shorter your writing, the better chance it has of being read. And, people enjoy prolific people: saying the same thing with fewer words as opposed to many words brands you as prolific, not the fact that you know a thousand multi-syllabic words. And finally, it's easier to remember three pithy words than it is ten that wander about. The concept that "less is more" may have started in architecture but could not be more appropriate in our writing.

2. Be clear

Be aware that many words carry both connotative and denotative meanings, which can mean subtle, yet significant differences between what you meant to say and how readers interpret your meaning. As the following delightful poem points out, your positive denotative words may carry with them some negative connotative interpretations. What words might you be using that confuse your readers?

Call a woman a kitten, but never a cat;
You can call her a mouse, cannot call her a rat;
Call a woman a chick, but never a hen;
Or you surely will not be her caller again.
You can call her a duck, cannot call her a goose;
You can call her a deer, but never a moose;
You can call her a lamb, but never a sheep;
Economic she likes, but you can't call her cheap.

(Note: And by the way, this is one of those millions of little ditties that skip around cyberland without accompanying attribution or contact information. If anyone can verify the author/origin of this poem, please let me know as I would love to give appropriate credit.)

3. Be a storyteller

If you want to grab attention, then tell a story. Whether you're writing a brochure to sell leather, a Web site to discuss water-proof rain gear, or a book about a famous podiatrist, tell a story rather than merely listing rote facts, such as the features of the boots that a foot doctor would recommend.

Instead, tell readers how these same boots were worn, thanks to a trusted doctor's recommendation, by a weary bush pilot in sub-zero Alaskan weather and how they saved him from certain frostbite after his plane crashed in the remote northern-most portion of the state.

Stories grab and hold attention. And, they intrigue readers to keep reading until the story's happy - or bittersweet - end.

Bottom Line: If you write to express rather than to impress, then your writing will automatically be more impressive.

Debra Koontz Traverso 

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