10 Rules To Follow for Effective Writing
Poorly written content is easy to spot. It’s frustrating or confusing to read, dreary, incomplete, or full of errors. What is effective writing? Well-written content is smooth and flows naturally, absorbing the reader without noticing the artful skill that went into it.
What Are the Characteristics of Effective Writing?
Effective writing engages the reader and presents ideas in a natural sequence, simplifying complex concepts. It is efficient and easy to understand.
Writing is a skill that can steadily improve with practice. If you want to be a strong writer but aren’t yet, here are 10 tried-and-true rules for how to write effectively.
1. Use Active Voice as Much as You Can
Active voice is one of the fundamentals of effective writing. It makes your writing more engaging, direct, and concise.
Writing in the active voice requires you to include a clear subject who acts. This means that the subject of the sentence acts, as opposed to passive voice, where the subject receives the action.
For example, “Sarah spilled the milk” is in active voice. Sarah is the subject, and she spilled the milk.
To put that sentence in passive voice, you would write, “The milk was spilled by Sarah.”
Here is another example:
“Steve watched in horror as the wind toppled his expensive billboard.” (active voice)
“Steve’s expensive billboard was toppled by the wind as he watched in horror.” (passive voice)
Active voice is essential, but don’t feel like you have to force every sentence into active voice. Use it where it feels natural and appropriate. Passive voice also has its place in great writing.
2. Keep (Most) Sentences Short and Punchy
A big part of effective writing is editing. How clearly and concisely can you express your idea?
Some sentences will be long and convoluted when you start writing on a topic. This is a natural part of translating your thoughts into content someone else wants to read. However, it’s only the first step.
Short sentences that concisely convey your point are easier to read and understand. They create a pleasing cadence that keeps the reader engaged. Long and complex sentences require the reader to pause and think about what you’re trying to say. You can lose them.
Short, punchy sentences allow readers to digest each section, easily keeping up with your ideas. The trick is to use simple sentence structures that are free of unnecessary words and focus on verbs and nouns.
This rule comes with a caveat. While you want most of your sentences to be short and punchy, a repeated, simple sentence structure will get monotonous.
The most engaging content contains sentences of different lengths. This variety allows you to create clear, concise, and memorable writing.
3. Identify Your Audience
Effective writing speaks to the reader. One way to avoid being generic is to identify the audience you are writing for before you start.
When you have a specific audience in mind, it’s easier to tailor your message and style to meet their pain points and knowledge level. Writing a blog on new diabetes medications for an audience of doctors who treat diabetes patients will be very different from writing about the same medication for people living with diabetes.
Here are some of the factors to consider as you think about your target audience:
- Are they experts in the subject matter? What level of knowledge do they have?
- Why are they interested in the topic? What problem are they solving or hoping to solve?
- What tone is appropriate? Is this a professional audience, or is a casual tone better?
By understanding your audience, you can tailor your writing to their interests, needs, and expertise.
4. Deliver Value
Effective writing delivers value. Content marketing builds relationships by giving the audience solutions and insights they can appreciate and enjoy. To deliver value to your audience, you want to say something meaningful or add new information.
What Are the Features of Effective Writing?
Here are several ways to ensure you are delivering value while learning how to write effectively:
- Define your purpose. What value do you want to provide to your readers? Are you trying to inform, entertain, or persuade them?
- Address your readers’ needs. Think about what questions they may have and what problems they are trying to solve.
- Be specific. Give your readers specific tips, examples, or tools that they can use to achieve their goals.
- Make it actionable. Include clear steps to follow or ideas for how they can apply the information to their situation.
- Be concise. Present the essential information in a clear and straightforward way.
When you provide value, your writing resonates with your audience.
5. Keep Your Word Choice Simple and Jargon-Free
If your audience has to look up a word or abbreviation to understand your content, you may lose them. Effective writing is less about showing off everything you know and more about sharing with your audience.
Complex or technical language can seem pretentious and make your writing inaccessible. Keep your word choice simple and matched to your audience for clear and engaging writing.
It can take a few extra moments to translate jargon or specialized language into plain words anyone can understand, but it creates a smoother reading experience. Instead of making them feel confused or stupid, you help them understand what you’re sharing.
6. Remember the Five Ws and One H
Effective writing requires answering the essential questions of what, where, when, who, why, and how. These questions are not just important for journalists but also for any writer who wants to create concise and engaging content.
You may not always need to literally answer all six questions, but they are a good test to see if you’re delivering the vital information your audience needs. Whether you’re writing a news article, a blog post, or marketing copy, a quick review of your outline with these in mind will identify any obvious gaps.
What Makes Good Writing Effective?
Good writing is effective when it succinctly answers the reader’s questions in a natural and easily comprehensible flow. As you answer the essential questions on the topic, visual language helps a reader imagine and mentally represent your answers so that they finish your piece with a clear and lasting understanding of what you wrote.
7. Use Stories or Examples
For complex ideas, examples anchor your writing in reality, resolving questions and avoiding confusion. Stories illustrate your point, making it more relatable and understandable.
These powerful communication tools can make your message more relatable and understandable. Here are some tips on how to use them well.
- Choose relevant stories that back up or illustrate the point you are making.
- Avoid distracting the reader by taking them too far from the idea you are explaining.
- Use vivid, descriptive language to help your audience visualize the scene, characters, challenge, and action.
- The example should directly clarify your point while being relevant and relatable.
- You can use the contrast of two different examples (correct, incorrect), present a case study, or use a hypothetical scenario.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t misrepresent or exaggerate.
8. To Be or Not to Be?
In English, the verb “to be” is painfully easy to overuse. There is, there was, it is, and it was are all incredibly versatile phrases. Unfortunately, when writers lean on them too heavily, they often end up with a lot of passive voice and weak writing.
English is a rich language full of interesting verbs. Using something more descriptive than ‘to be’ adds specificity and punch to your writing. Here are a few examples.
Instead of “He was happy when I told him the news,” you can write, “He shook my hand and bought everyone a round of drinks when I told him the news.”
Rather than “She was exhausted at the meeting,” you can write, “She yawned several times during our meeting.”
In place of “This business is taking off,” you can write, “This business’s sales doubled every month this year.”
Instead of “He is swamped. He is a dedicated CEO,” you can write, “The swamped CEO dedicates 80 to 100 hours a week to his company.”
9. Use Positive Phrasing (Where Possible)
Positive phrasing means avoiding “not” and other words that indicate negation.
- “I do not think that an 8 a.m. team meeting on Monday morning is a good idea.” (negative)
- “I’m not sure we want a team meeting before everyone’s caffeine kicks in.” (negative)
- “I think a team meeting at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. would be better for morale.” (positive)
- “I find we get more participation and better ideas from the team later in the morning.” (positive)
Here’s another example:
- “I never imagined he wouldn’t stay with the company.” (negative)
- “I am surprised he left the company.” (positive)
- “I imagined he would stay with the company, and his departure came as a surprise.” (positive)
Sometimes, using a negation makes more sense than a positive version. Using positive phrases makes writing clearer and easier to read.
10. Read Your Writing Out Loud
Reading your writing out loud is a simple but effective technique that can improve the quality of your writing. It can help you catch errors, improve the flow and rhythm of your writing, identify unclear phrasing, understand the tone, and increase engagement.
Reading aloud may feel silly at first, but you will be surprised at how effective this editing strategy can be. Sentences that are too long will pop out. Paragraphs that don’t flow well will become apparent. You will see where you can expand on your ideas or where you’ve repeated yourself unnecessarily.
It’s a simple, easy way to improve the quality of your writing.
What Are the Techniques of Effective Writing?
The techniques of effective writing are simple but can take time to master. Effective writing uses active voice with plenty of short, punchy sentences. It presents ideas in an easy-to-follow sequence that allows the reader to absorb information without pausing to look up words or acronyms.
Effective writing answers all the reader’s questions on the topic, using active and specific verbs to illustrate ideas, and employing relevant examples or stories to support important or complex points.
For Effective Writing, Write To Express, Not Impress
What is effective writing? It’s not about impressing your audience with your vocabulary or showcasing your grammatical prowess. It’s about expressing your thoughts, ideas, and feelings clearly and concisely.
When you write to express yourself, you focus on communicating your message rather than trying to sound impressive. By keeping your word choice simple, using active voice, writing for your audience, providing clear value, using stories or examples, and reading your writing out loud, you will improve the effectiveness of your writing skills.
Writing is a communication tool that aims to convey ideas and information to your audience. Write to express and let your message speak for itself. If you prefer to hire experienced writers, our team of experts is here to help.
Joan Weisman’s strong research skills, SEO knowledge, adaptability of style and voice, and passion for staying current make her an asset for freelance web content, SEO, and copywriting.