1. Plan and outline
It’s weak to sit down at your computer and start typing randomly. As my mentor says, “garbage in, garbage out.” If you don’t plan your writing’s format, you’ll blather. I recommend outlining using the inverted pyramid, the professional writing style of all media outlets.
2. Write in speaking order
We speak in subject-verb-object order. Writing should be constructed this way as well. It helps you write in the most active voice possible. Active writing is shorter and more engaging.
3. Learn AP Style
Associated Press style is the preferred writing style for media writers. If you don’t have an AP Stylebook, I suggest you get one and begin using it daily. It’s clear, concise and standardized professional language. Learn it. Love it. Use it. I promise it will serve you well.
4. Write tight
Mark Twain was quoted as saying he would have written shorter, but he didn’t have the time. It’s easier to write long than it is to write short. However, concise writing is more effective. Pretend like every word you publish costs you a dollar. Be frugal.
5. Never use “very”
Very is a weak substitute for a strong verb or adjective. Don’t use it. Instead of writing it was very cold, write it was frigid.
6. Avoid semicolons
Semicolons are for complex sentences. The best writing is simple and easily understood. If you’re tempted to use a semicolon, break the sentence into two simple sentences.
7. Never use a word you don’t understand
If you don’t understand it, chances are someone else doesn’t either. You want to inform your reader, not confuse them. Use simple words in simple sentences.
8. Save your commas
We litter our writing with more commas than necessary. To avoid this, pretend you only have so many commas to use for the rest of your life. Use them judiciously so you don’t run out.
9. Spell check and proofread
Spell check is a blessing. Always use it. But don’t let spell checking keep you from proofreading too. I know a guy who submitted a paper all about the importance of “pubic relations.” It was for a public relations course. Pubic and public are both words, but I assume their relations are different.
10. Avoid clichés
It doesn’t help your writing to pepper it with overused phrases. It just makes it longer and may insert biased or sexist language. Clichés aren’t worth it.
11. Read aloud
Reading your writing aloud helps test its clarity. Alter any sentence you have to read more than once.
12. Step away