Although I’ve heard one or two people argue otherwise, writing is one of the essential skills for the technical communicator. In fact, you can safely say it’s one of the core skills you need to succeed in this wacky profession. No matter if you’re writing procedures or creating a screencast, you need to be able to write clearly and concisely to be effective.
Our writing can always use some work. I’m not saying that you can’t write. Far from it. In fact, I’m sure there are any number of people reading this post who can write better than I can. But no matter how good you are (or think you are), there’s always room for improvement.
It’s hard to count the number of paths you can take to improve your writing. Most of the ones that people tend to focus on tend to require a lot of effort and concentration. Nothing wrong with that – learning to write well isn’t an easy task.
But there are many other ways in which you can improve your writing. They don’t take a lot of time, aren’t difficult, and can be done just about anywhere and at any time.
Here are three simple and subtle ways in which you can do just that.
I often talk about writing as you’d speak. Literally. The best way to do that is to listen to conversations. Don’t be nosy, but pay attention to the way in which people use language – both well and badly. Listen to the cadence and the flow of conversations. Later, when it comes time to write, try to mimic that flow. Even if there’s no dialogue involved, follow a conversational flow and cadence in what you’re writing.
But don’t just listen to conversations. Listen to everyday sounds. How they form, how they echo, how they strike your ears, and how they recede. More on this in a moment.
I don’t just mean sitting down in front of your computer or with a pad of paper and letting the words flow. Just write down those little snippets that come into your head during the day. Put them in a notebook. Tap them out on your smartphone. Or save them to an online tool like Evernote or Simplenote. It doesn’t have to be long. A few words or a couple of sentences. Just get the idea down.
Later, go back and try to write something new around those bits and pieces in your note. Stitch them together into something longer. Or, at the very least, try to incorporate them into something you’re writing now.
I’ve always felt that to become a good writer, you need to read. Not just read, but read with intent. Try to figure out why a piece of writing works or fails. Is it a set of good descriptions? Is it good use to dialogue and quotes? Is it tight writing?
Analyze, compare, and contrast. Look at the elements you identify, and how you can incorporate those elements into your own writing.
Thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.