Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is the founder of the Bradford Group and president of Bradford Dalton Group, a full-service public relations and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Nashville. We asked Jeff how you can improve your writing skills. Here's what he shared:
I've spent a lifetime learning how to write and edit other people's writing. Below is a collection of tips I've amassed over the years to help you become a better writer.
1. Good writing is good thinking.
Too often, I see people simply throw everything they know on the page with nothing connecting the dots. Make sure your ideas are clear before trying to communicate them, and that the flow of thoughts you want to communicate proceeds in a clear and easily decipherable pattern. Make sure that each sentence and paragraph flows naturally and rationally from the one before it. The reader should be able to easily retrace the path you followed to arrive at your conclusion.
2. If you want to write better, read better writers.
Good writing requires more than knowing the rules of grammar. It has a certain style and art about it that makes people want to read it. It's not easy to describe, but there are basic rules like: avoid redundancy, don't use the same word twice in close proximity, and use an active voice. The best way to learn a compelling writing style and how to use the right style in every situation is to read good writers. To paraphrase Truman Capote, writers who don't read aren't really writing: They're just typing.
3. Jargon is about pre-chewed ideas.
Jargon is often used by people who can't digest original concepts. Don't get me started on jargon. I loathe it. It's ugly. It makes you look stupid. It annoys people. It's cheap substitute for thinking.
4. Empathize with your reader.
A writer's primary job is to make it easy for readers to understand him. It's not to show off what a good writer you are. In fact, the more you draw attention to your writing, the worse it is.
Think only about the reader and his needs when you're writing, not about you and your needs. Try and get inside your reader's head. Seek to understand what he wants to know, how he feels about your topic, what his fears and delights are. Then, do you best to give him what he wants without drawing attention to how you're doing it.
5. Use only as many words as necessary.
Good writing is economical. Unfortunately, because of college requirements to write essays with a specified word count (it was 500 words when I was in school, which seems short now, but was such a hurdle then), many of us got into the habit of padding our writing with unnecessary verbiage. Stop that. I recommend you re-read what you write and find a way to cut it down by at least 10 percent. It will always be a better product if you do.
6. Good writers are naturally curious.
Always seek something new to learn, and you'll be worth listening to. Good writing requires a deep well of knowledge you can draw from to make your point, explain an idea, or capture the reader's imagination. So, in addition to reading often and widely, you should also live life fully to build up a cache of experiences.
7. Avoid adjectives and adverbs.
Use more precise nouns or verbs instead. Don't say that someone lightly knocked on the door. Say she tapped on the door. I think Hemingway was the best at this.
8. You can't break rules you don't know.
Picasso once said, "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child." That is, he had internalized the rules of classical painting to such a degree that he was able to paint so compellingly by breaking those rules. He knew how to break them in a way that led to better art. Same with writing. The best writers successfully bend the rules because they know them so well.
The best way to write well is to write often. Write when you don't feel like it, when you think you have nothing to say, and under a pressing deadline. Write in different formats, and learn how to adapt your style to each. Practice, practice, practice. Eventually, writing will come as naturally as speaking--and your speaking will probably become more precise, with fewer "you know" and "like" and "um" and other filler words.