How to Be a Better Writer

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, is hilarious. He is also wise. Yesterday on his blog he divulged 80% of the rules for good business writing. Here are his tips:

  • The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.
  • Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences.
  • Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say “drink” when you can say “swill.”
  • Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.

Here are 50 more tips for good writing.

One thing I’m thinking more about is humor writing. It’s hard to write humorously about serious topics.

2 comments on “How to Be a Better Writer
  • A lot of times, it’s harder to write in an easy-to-read and simple style! That’s actually one thing that blogs are good at teaching writers–how to create short articles that focus on only one thing.

    When I was younger, my mother (Selling to Big Companies expert Jill Konrath) read that the best business writing is written at a level that a 5th grader could understand. As I was in 5th grade at the time, I became her guinea pig!

    But it does work. My mom has had amazing success with her book, newsletter, and blog because everyone can understand how to use her material. She doesn’t need to try to sound smart because people can quickly see the value of her work.

    As someone once told me: “Never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice!” 😉

  • Tickling readers come naturally if we can shed our conceit and display our natural dumb selves. Result would be formation of instant fan club since most readers would have anyway done dumber things. In effect, just mirror them and become one !

    Gordon Kirkland (worship him before you can say humor) always allowed his readers to laugh with him, at him, and by extension at themselves.

    Here’s how he wrote about his dumbest dog. Any reader who owned a dog with even the slightest lick of sense could feel superior and laugh with him and at him for owning such a dog. Those with equally stupid dogs could laugh at their own lives as they saw some of their dog’s traits, in what he was describing about his own. I quote him below –

    “When Pavlov rang his bell, his dog would drool. Whenever anyone rings our bell, the dumbest dog to ever get lost on a single flight of stairs pees. It’s the same concept, just a different end of the dog.”

    He wrote once about undergoing that medical procedure that involved inserting a camera into your inner sanctum. Bad enough as that event was to endure, he had a “what if” thought as he wrote about it.

    “In actual fact, the camera itself was small enough that it didn’t cause much of a problem. I think the real pain came when he tried to shove up a tripod up there to steady it.”

    More than misery, I think stupidity loves company 🙂

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