12 Simple (But Powerful) Tips To Make Your Writing A Superpower

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Ahoy and happy Monday!

Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where every week we dive into 1 of the 10 biggest problems all writers face:

  • Distractions
  • Over-editing
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Self-confidence
  • Generating ideas
  • Impostor syndrome
  • Writing consistently
  • Finding time to write
  • Loose feedback loops

(And, of course, if you want to crush all 10 of these AND master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)

This week, we want to help you build your writing confidence with 12 essential writing tips.

Writing is a superpower.

The goal of anything you write, especially in a professional or business setting, is effective communication. You need to become a master of writing that works. Unfortunately, the vast majority of schools (and employers for that matter) do a horrible job teaching people how to write.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help us become better writers (and communicators). In 1981, two advertising executives wrote a timeless guide for how to write in the business world. Writing That Works by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson should be required reading for every corporate worker in America.

It’s filled with actionable tips and frameworks and has everything you need to start communicating clearly and concisely.

And why is this so important? Because busy people read what you write. So you are more useful to them when your writing takes up less of their time.

The goal: invest the time to write well now to save others time in the future.

Here are 12 tips from Writing That Works to help you do exactly that (staple these to your desk):

Tip 1: Don't mumble.

Wherever you’re reading this, read this next part out loud:

While it is generally desirable to communicate your thoughts in a forthright manner, toning down your point and tiptoeing around it may tempt the reader to tune out and allow his mind to wander.

Did you notice something? You probably struggled to get all of those words out. You might have even stumbled over them.

To avoid this for your readers, your writing should be clear and to the point:

  • Use shorter words
  • Strip out the jargon
  • Use common (and uncomplicated) language

In other words, don't mumble.

Every other tip in this list builds on this one core idea.

Tip 2: Clearly organize your writing.

If you want to write well, you need to think well.

So before you start writing your piece, get clear on what you want to say. There’s no use in jumping in with two feet and trying to write your way to clarity. This can work, but it’s much quicker (and will save you a ton of editing time) if you do the thinking before you do your writing.

In Ship 30, we call this “Prepping The Page”.

It helps to work out your objective (by writing your headline), list out your main points, and then fill in the gaps when you come to “write”. Not only does it make your writing clearer, it actually eliminates the fear of the blank page.

Here’s an example:

  • Headline: What is this piece about? Who is it for? What will the reader get in exchange for reading through to the end? AND, why should they trust you (what’s your credibility)?
  • Introduction: (Repeat the information from the headline with slightly more detail.) What is this piece about? Who is it for? What will the reader get in exchange for reading through to the end? AND, why should they trust you (what’s your credibility)?
  • Main Points: What “proven approach” are you using to organize this piece? (Is this piece organized by Steps, Lessons, Mistakes, Tips, etc.?) How many do you plan on including? 3 Steps? 4 Lessons? 5 Mistakes?
  • Conclusion: What’s the final takeaway? What do you want readers to walk away with after reading this piece? What’s the morale of the story?

Copy, paste, and tweak this formula for every piece of writing.

Tip 3: Open with short paragraphs and short sentences.

Crack open the Wall Street Journal and read the top three stories.

We bet they all start with one or two sentences. Why? Because the goal of your first sentence is to get the reader to read your second sentence.

The golden rule: NEVER open with a Wall of Text. Just look at the difference between these two pieces of writing:

All Digital Writers who communicate clearly spit their writing up.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Use subheads to make the sections of your piece clear
  • Organize your writing rhythmically—use the 1/3/1 or 1/4/1 section structure
  • When you’re listing 3 or more items, turn them into a bulleted or numbered list

If you want more tips on how to make your formatting flawless, check out our complete guide here.

Tip 4: Use short words.

The goal here isn't to make your writing shorter.

The goal is to reduce friction. Short words are easier to speak. And since your reader is speaking the words in their head as they read, you can make it easy for them.

Here are some shorter words for commonly used words:

  • Currently → Now
  • Initiate → Start
  • Indicate → Show
  • Finalize → Finish
  • Expedite → Speed up, move along
  • Utilize → Use
  • Position → Place, put

Onwards to the next tip.

Tip 5: Use adjectives and adverbs for precision, not exclamation points.

Cut lazy words like very, great, awfully, and basically. These do nothing for you.

But use vigorous ones to sharpen your point:

  • Tiny raise
  • Moist handshake
  • Crisply presented
  • Baffling instructions

Using adjectives and adverbs precisely should add meaning and clarity to your writing.

Tip 6: Use down-to-earth language and avoid jargon.

People use jargon thinking it shows off what they know (and is a common mistake most people make, especially in their jobs).

But what they are really doing with jargon is hiding their lack of understanding of a topic. If you want to push yourself to see if you understand a concept, use the Feynman Technique with your writing. This technique is simple but will immediately expose any gaps in your understanding.

Here’s how it works:

When explaining something, pretend you are telling it to a sixth grader. To do this, you need to eliminate jargon and explain concepts in an easy and simple to understand way. And if you can’t do that, you don’t really understand the concept.

Don’t get bogged down in complicated language.

Tip 7: Be specific.

Your biggest writing weakness:

Using generalities.

If your reader has to guess, then you will lose their attention, and they will start looking for their dopamine fix elsewhere (like TikTok). So never make the reader guess. Readers value tangible items they can grasp over intangibles they can’t bring to their mind, see, or touch.

Here’s an example:

Instead of "Our campaign was a great success and we came in under budget".

Now, let’s add precision with some numbers:

"We increased click-through rates by 21% while spending 19% less than expected."

The second sentence is packed with tons more useful information (and won’t leave your reader frustrated that they don’t have all the details).

Tip 8: Choose the right word.

Fix these in your writing straight away:

  • it's ≠ its
  • into ≠ in to
  • affect ≠ effect
  • principal ≠ principle
  • indifferent ≠ disinterested

When you confuse words like these, your reader may think you don't know any better—illiteracy does not breed respect.

Tip 9: Make your writing perfect.

There are no excuses for these, especially with tools like Grammarly:

  • No typos
  • No misspelling
  • No errors in numbers or data

Spend the extra five minutes to make these fixes.

Or spend $5 per month and let software solve them for you.

Tip 10: Get to the point.

Take the time to break down what you have to say.

Then, express it confidently in simple, declarative sentences. This is important in memos and emails, so put your declaration in the subject line or as the first line of your document. Let your reader know exactly where you're going. This tip should be applied everywhere, not just in business writing.

Here’s an example from an ad:

Tip 11: Write the way you talk. Naturally.

People think the written language and the spoken language are different.

They aren't. As Cole likes to say, he didn’t learn how to write during his degree in fiction writing. He learned how to read and the importance of reading his work out loud.

  • Choose a topic
  • Write a paragraph about it
  • Then, record yourself talking about it

(We like to use Otter.ai while out on walks to outline and collect our thoughts on a topic.)

Here’s what to listen out for:

  • Listen for tone. As soon as the words start to come out of your mouth, you will feel what tone you were writing in. The big question is: was this tone your intention? Adjust your writing accordingly.
  • Listen for pace. Long descriptions seem great when they're in your head. But read them out loud and you'll feel yourself getting bored. Don't discount this feeling. The moment you start zoning out, the description has died.
  • Listen for wordiness. "And so it was then that..." Anytime you hear lots of tiny words next to each other, you'll feel your mouth fumble over them. Cut them. Compress them. Your writing will be sharper.
  • Listen for your own emotions. Reading your writing out loud makes it real. In emotional moments, you'll feel your chest tighten. In vulnerable moments, you'll feel your throat close. In hilarious moments, you'll let out a laugh. These are your BEST writing.
  • Listen for off-brand language. The moment an off-brand description, word, or phrase falls out of your mouth, you will cringe in pain. It'll be so potently apparent that this doesn’t sound like you.

Adjust your writing until it sounds like how you talk.

Tip 12: Remove the words you don't need.

Filler words plague all kinds of writing.

The trick is to remove any words you don’t need. Listening to yourself read back your work (like in the tip above) will help you zone in on what you need to cut. Don’t get precious about this. Your writing is suffering because these words are left in.

Here’s a list of overused phrases (and their simpler equivalent):

  • In order to → to
  • Take action → act
  • In the event of → if
  • Equally as → equally
  • Advance plan → plan
  • For the purpose of → to
  • At this point in time → now

That's it for today!

Chat next week!

–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

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