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10 Tips on Effective Writing

Earlier this year, I crossed  the threshold of writing over 3000 blog articles on the Zambian Economist. I hope to share some thoughts on what I have learnt about blogging and writing. I thought I should start with the top ten tips that has has helped to make my writing as effective as possible. I am no expert but I have more than a million annual readers - so I must be writing right. Okay it is possible people just put up with me. But for what it is worth here are my tips:  

Tip #1: Know your key message. No point writing unless you can answer the basic question, ‘what am I trying to say’? Sum it up in single sentence. Then start writing!

Tip #2: Make it short. Not everyone is blessed with a huge knowledge of English. So make everything short. Make your words shorter. Even more important keep your sentences short by cutting out words. It is also important that you use one topic or idea per paragraph! But make sure you break paragraphs and keep them short too – it makes it easier for readers to scan your text!

Tip #3: Be specific. The writer must capture the reader’s attention. It is therefore important that every word is specific and hits the message being communicated.

Tip #4: Eliminate paddling. Effective writing eliminates comfort phrases. Phrases such as “in effect” and “it is with this in mind” do not add value! The key is to ask yourself, ‘is this phrase contributing anything’? Someone has said, “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.

Tip #5: Avoid repetition. There’s nothing more boring that constant repetition. This is true in speech as well as writing. If you must repeat avoid doing so in close proximity!

Tip #6: Give the reader a map. The writer is like a tourist guide. You are taking a reader along a journey for them to discover what lies ahead. Don’t leave the reader guessing where you are going. Give signposts!

Tip #7: Avoid jargon! We all have words we like to use often which are not known to those outside our expertise or inner circle. The jargon gets in the way of the message. It is important to drop the jargon and think of an everyday English equivalent. All technical or scientific or theological words must be explained!

Tip #8: Use the active voice. Active voice is powerful and engaging. Passive voices sends us to sleep! So be direct. Say, “I will always remember my first to Lusaka” not “my first visit to Lusaka will be always be remembered”.

Tip #9: Don’t over-emphasise. I am definitely guilty of this. I like to use italics and put things in bold. Effective writing does not require that. It certainly does not need over use of words like “very”, “extremely”, “crucial”, etc. Let the argument speak for itself!

Tip #10: Think about your reader. Make sure the tone, type of language and arguments are suitable to your audience. How much do they know about the subject? Get the level of detail right. In short, know your reader! Perhaps this needs to be at the top!

Okay, although I have called this post “top ten” tips but actually there’s one final thing. Edit your writing! In general your first draft should be free and inhibited! Thereafter starts the hard work of editing! Keep editing until you get it right! A crucial part of the editing process is to read it aloud! If it doesn't sound right it is not right! You should also consider giving it to a friend to read and ask them what they think! These tips also apply to public speaking! Keeping them in mind definitely should go a long way!

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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