Guest post by Jim Schakenbach
Not everyone is comfortable writing. Email, blogs, and other digital media have forced many non-writers into the unenviable position of having to crank out prose on a regular basis. If you'd rather have a root canal than face a blank text screen, here are some tips that will have you writing like a pro in no time:
1. Short sentences are your friend.
Anyone can string together a lengthy, unclear, and ineffective sentence. Many people are afraid that short sentences make them look stupid. But the more you struggle to add phrases, lengthen a sentence, and try to look smart, the worse it gets. Instead, relax and write as simply as possible. Once you embrace brevity, it is remarkable how much clearer you can write.
2. Banish the exclamation point.
Many people mistake the use of an exclamation point as a way to express the importance of something. In reality, it just makes you sound shrill. Avoid it. Exclamation points - especially in business documents - look amateurish, over-excited, and irritating.
3. Use quotation marks correctly.
Quotation marks are used by many for emphasis or to identify a statement or phrase, such as a tagline or slogan in business. Both are wrong. Quotation marks are for identifying the exact words spoken by someone; for example: "This year's fourth quarter sales figures are significantly better than last year's," stated Acme Corporation's vice president of corporate sales. It's simple - if the specific words did not come from a person's mouth (or keyboard), do not stick them between quotation marks.
4. Stop random capitalization.
Nothing is more distracting or confusing than random capitalization - the irrational sprinkling of capital letters throughout an article, white paper, sales report, or news release. The only time initial capital letters should be employed is to abbreviate a longer name or phrase or to identify proper nouns such as the name of a person, place or thing (John, Texas, General Electric, Congress) or someone's title (Senator Mary Smith). Do not capitalize a job function (vice president of corporate sales, technical manager, senior engineer) unless it precedes a person's name as their specific title and do not capitalize generic products. An electronics company might manufacture circuit boards, but not Circuit Boards.
5. Avoid obfuscation.
Huh? I'll bet some of you Googled for a definition, right? My point exactly. Stop needlessly torturing the English language. If you're reaching for a twenty-five cent word when a five-cent word will do just fine, you're unnecessarily complicating things (which, of course, is the definition of obfuscation). Even worse, you're probably just confusing your audience. Is that what you really want to do?
I'll let you in on one final little secret to good writing. If you have not noticed it already, all five points above have one thing in common: simplicity. Good writing is simple - that's what makes it both hard and easy at the same time. If you strive to simplify your writing, you'll be well on your way to becoming a better writer.
Jim Schakenbach, owner of BIGWORDS Content Development, is a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant working primarily with B2B and technology accounts. He specializes in creating clear, compelling marketing messages for complex products and technologies. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website at http://www.bigwordscontent.com.