3 Tips to Becoming a Better Writer

Shelley Yates, Communications, Senior Advisor
May 17, 2019

Whether you haven’t written anything since high school or you’re a published author – the truth is that everyone is a writer. Whenever you’re posting on social media, writing a blog post or even just sending an email, your words tell a story. Here are three important changes everyone can make to improve their writing.

Consider Your Audience

Think of how you communicate outside of work. Do you talk the same way to a child as you would your doctor? Do you speak differently to a room full of people versus one-on-one? Without even realizing it, most people adjust their body language, tone, word choice and more to adjust to their audience and surroundings.

Before you hit send on an email and before you pick up the phone to call your client, take a moment to think about the person on the other end and how they will perceive the information you have to share. Just as a doctor would not speak to a patient the same way they would speak to another doctor, consider the expertise and experience of your audience. Keep in mind that you have experience, education and expertise that your clients do not have; that’s why they seek your advice. Generous use of industry jargon may be alienating to those that aren’t “in the know,” so consider your phrasing, word choice and the level of detail you provide. Taking a moment to reflect before responding will help you communicate your message more effectively every time.

Revisions are Your Friend

No one writes anything perfectly the first time. For example, by the time you read this article, it will have been reviewed and revised a minimum of three times. Try to think of anything you type as a jumping-off point, not the final product. Typing something does not set it in stone.

When replying to important emails, I hit “reply” and then delete the person’s name from the “To:” line so I don’t accidentally send them an email before I’m ready.

When I’m working on larger writing projects that cover multiple ideas and topics, I often try to get as much as I can down on the page. I even sometimes disregard whether I’m writing complete sentences or spelling words correctly. I then go back and tweak it once I know where it’s headed. Sometimes I’ll get stuck on a certain point and just make a note in the document to come back to it so that it doesn’t prevent me from getting the rest of the message across. For example, an earlier version of this section began with an “insert paragraph about editing” note to self so I could skip ahead to my next point while it was still fresh in my mind. Don't let fear of not getting it right the first time paralyze you from getting started at all.

Furthermore, having someone other than yourself review what you’ve written can be invaluable. Though it may be intimidating to have someone else review what you’ve written, it almost invariably leads to a better finished work. It’s easy to overlook errors when you review your own writing because your mind automatically fills in what you meant to say. In addition to spotting these errors, a separate editor can help you ensure that what you write aligns with the message you’re trying to share with your audience.

Hack Your Readability

The written word can communicate an infinite amount of ideas and information, but if it isn’t readable, it cannot engage an audience. While reading levels vary from person to person, most would agree that a novel or memoir is more readable than, say, the Internal Revenue Code. That is because of readability, which is a measure of how easy a piece of text is to read.

Microsoft Word and Outlook offer a “readability statistics” feature that can actually make you a better writer. Here’s how to enable it and how to make the best use of it:

  1. In Word, click File > Options > Proofing. In Outlook, it’s File > Options > Mail > Spelling and Autocorrect > Proofing.
  2. Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” check the box next to “Show readability statistics check box” and click OK to save.

Now, once you complete a spell-check, you’ll get a new pop-up that looks like this (and yes, these are the statistics for this article):

Focus on the Readability section for easy ways to improve your writing.

  • The lower the percentage of passive sentences, the more engaging the content generally is. If the percentage is high (above 15%), hit Ctrl+F to search in the document for words like “is,” “are,” “be” and “were.” See if you can flip the order of the words in the sentence to reduce them. For example, maybe “The article was written by me” would become “I wrote the article.”
  • The higher the Flesch Reading Ease score, the more readable the material is. Ideally, aim for 50-70. Extremely long sentences and specialty jargon tend to drag this score down, so try to break up a long sentence into two and use simpler words to convey your message, especially for non-technical audiences.
  • The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level should vary based on your audience. For other CPAs and advisors, a higher number (12+) is perfectly acceptable, especially for content related to tax, securities or legal knowledge. However, the standard for the general public is around 8.

By considering your audience’s point of view, revising your message until it’s just right and utilizing readability statistics, you can more efficiently and effectively communicate your message.

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