Alongside working for The Yardstick Agency, I’m also paying an extortionate amount of money on a Film and Creative Writing degree. Amidst watching terrible films (I’m looking at you, Plan Nine From Outer Space), I’m also learning a lot about how to write effectively.
To save you £9,250 a year, I’m sharing 10 of the best writing tricks I’ve picked up during my time at university to help you instantly improve your article writing.
1. Outline what you plan to say
Sketch out a quick outline of what you want to write before you start. Whether it’s the beats of the scene you want to write or a few statistics you want to use, laying your argument out first will speed up the writing process.
2. Write the worst first draft possible
If you’re struggling to write your first draft — whether it’s from writer’s block or a lack of energy — then go out of your way to write the worst piece ever.
This makes the activity more fun and accessible as you remove any high expectations of your work. And when you come back to do the second draft, rewriting your piece with a detailed structure will be much easier than starting from a blank page.
3. Don’t be afraid to write in the wrong order
If you’re struggling to write something, find the section you’re most excited to write about. Whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire segment of your work, ignore everything else for now and write that first.
Blank pages are daunting, so finding the easiest path into an article can give you the momentum you need to finish the rest.
4. Be specific
Try to avoid vague words such as “sometime”, “something” or “things”. Tell the reader exactly what you’re talking about!
In creative writing, this can help the reader picture characters or settings more distinctly. But it’s equally important in copywriting, as it engages your reader and allows you to give clearer advice, with less of a risk of misunderstandings.
5. Show vs tell
Showing rather than telling is one of the key pieces of advice given to every writer. Putting some trust in your reader by describing a character’s emotions rather than stating “they are sad” creates much more compelling prose.
Even in copywriting, line editing your work to ensure each sentence is punchy and worthwhile can draw readers. Simple tricks, like searching for the phrases “there is” or “there was” and rewriting the sentences can make them more effective.
For example, you could change the sentence “There is a strike of lightning” to “Lightning strikes the sky”. See how the second sentence is much more efficient and powerful?
6. Don’t drop a fact and run
When writing non-fiction, it’s important not to quote someone or drop a statistic and then move on to your next point with no time for the reader to let the implications of your facts sink in.
Raw data can be hard for people to digest. Contextualise information by explaining how this fact ties into your argument and elaborate on what it could mean for the topic you’re writing about.
7. Remove unnecessary words
When editing your writing, one trick which has saved my life on multiple occasions is to search through your document for these common unnecessary words.
- As a matter of fact
Most of the time, the sentences can be rewritten to remove the words and phrases to make them more effective. Making the most of your word count is one of the most important things you can do when writing.
8. Use active voice
In an active voice, a subject performs an action. For example, “The woman eats an ice cream”. But in passive voice, the subject is now being acted upon by the verb, so the sentence would flip to “The ice cream is eaten by the woman.”
Although there is a place for passive voice in writing — usually in journalism, when the subject isn’t necessarily known — you should write in active voice most of the time.
There are two tricks to check whether you’re writing in active or passive voice. The first is to see whether you could add “by zombies” to the end of your sentence and see whether it still makes sense.
The other is to search for “be”, “been”, or “being”. Many passive sentences contain these verbs, so it’s a good rule of thumb to rewrite a sentence if you catch one of these in your writing.
This blog explains more.
9. Read your writing out loud
Once you think you’ve finished writing a piece of work, read it out loud. This helps you to spot any grammatical errors or repetition while redrafting. And if you can’t read it out loud for whatever reason, changing the font can also help you look at your work with fresh eyes.
Microsoft Word even has a “read aloud” function that will read your work back to you!
10. Remember your audience
We tend to write our first drafts with only ourselves in mind. It’s important to remember who will actually be reading your work so you can make it appropriate for the age range and demographic, so they keep reading and learn something valuable to them.
Get in touch
If you don’t want to spend three years of your life studying creative writing, then you might benefit from our brilliant copywriting team.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 0115 8965 300 to find out how we could help.