I've been a writer my entire career. I love it. I also enjoy writing about what makes for good writing as well as coaching and editing others.
What's cool about being a writer is that you can always improve, and you should want to, too. You can always find a better, more succinct way to make your point, be persuasive -- and in the case of us entrepreneurs use writing to win more business. You might not be a writer, but you still have to write business proposals and emails or come up with a tagline, a mission statement or copy for your website. You still have to be able to communicate what you do and what sets you apart.
Recently I enjoyed catching up with fellow word and grammar nerd (a term of admiration, I assure you) Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, who produces the podcast "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." By the way, if you doubt people's hunger to understand writing and grammar, consider the Grammar Girl podcast is surpassing 300 million downloads this month. Here's some of what Fogarty and I talked about.
Good writing is simple.
Think subject, verb, object, period and in that order too. No need to bog down your writing -- and the reader -- with fancy clauses, adverbs or adjectives.
"Attention spans are so short, you have to use as few words as possible," Forgarty said.
A few words on subjects and verbs. To connect with the reader or create urgency, use second person, or "you." First person and second person are the most engaging.
As for verbs, think active over passive. You'll paint a clearer picture and won't have to rely on adverbs. Also, think of the simplest, most common verbs. For example, we talk more than we converse. And utilize is an overused corporate word for use.
"A lot of times when people use those big words they sound like they might be insecure," Fogarty said.
Note that not everything you write is urgent, exciting or otherwise screaming for an exclamation point. Don't succumb to the peer pressure. The period works great 99.9 percent of the time.
Good writing isn't formal or jargon heavy.
"So many people feel they have to be overly formal in business writing to be taken seriously," Fogarty said. "They have to use all the jargon and buzz words." Yes, oh my goodness yes. Every day of my life in corporate communications.
I have one corporate business partner who defies the mold. She lets me delete most of her adverbs and simplify her sentences. She once asked me why my writing sounded different than what she sees elsewhere in the company. What high praise. I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her. Simple sentences. Active verbs. First and second person. Limited adjective and adverbs. No jargon. I don't have any other tricks.
Writers are on their own a lot more.
From newspapers to corporations, the ranks of copy editors have thinned. That means writers are on their own and have to be their own editors, too. What's a writer to do? To check for grammar, syntax and typos, Fogarty's number one recommendation is to read your writing aloud. I agree. It works.
I also have my go-to resources that I consult: Merriam-Webster online and The Associated Press Stylebook online. And thank goodness for Google, because I always need to look up "affect versus effect."
Let's all calm down about texting and social media.
I asked Fogarty a question I'm sure she gets a lot. Are texting and social media making us worse writers? Fogarty has an optimistic view. Social media can make us better writers, because it forces brevity, she said. I agree. It's like headline writers. Those people are poets. This is why I miss the good old days of Twitter when tweets couldn't be longer than 140 characters. I enjoyed the challenge of being ultra brief. By comparison, 280 characters feels like a book.
As for texting, Fogarty likened it to private notes that people have passed through the ages. Always hastily written, because that's what the audience has always expected. Our parents wrote IOUs. Kids still sign yearbooks with BFF and HAGS (look it up). Heck, OK is an abbreviation for a misspelling from the mid 19th century, Forgarty noted.
FWIW, good writing is everywhere if you look for it. Maybe some of it can be yours.