Whether you’re writing a newsletter for your patients or a memo for your staff, a grant proposal or a clinical trial summary, being able to write well is a profoundly useful talent. But it’s one that’s not always thoroughly taught in school. Today, though, with the profusion of written media we consume, it’s more important than ever to be able to communicate well in writing. Here are a few simple ways to become a better writer.
- Know the basics. If you could only do one thing to improve your writing, memorizing a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style would be a pretty good choice.
- Build a good reference library. A book on writing doesn’t have to be dull to be useful. From Stephen King’s On Writing to William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, from Kitty Burns Florey’s Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog to Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax, there are many books on writing that are both enjoyable and informative.
- Find new answers. Research is vital, but it’s helpful to broaden your net before gathering specific information. Certain social media websites can be great tools for this. Quora and Metafilter are Q&A sites, and Reddit is a warren of myriad topics and subtopics. These aren’t necessarily sources of authoritative information, but they’re great places to get tip-offs to new angles, thoughts or arguments.
- Find a good platform. Writing is hard enough; storing and organizing shouldn’t be. Consider a cloud service to keeps your writing archived and available from any device. Some examples include Evernote, Google Drive and Dropbox.
- Study the craft of writing. In addition to your reference books, seek out those who talk about good writing and what makes it good. From podcasts to blogs to newspaper columns, there are many options. A great one is the blog Write To Done.
- Read good writing. As one character says in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, “Reading good books spoils you for enjoying bad ones.” Your writing will improve when you read good writing. Consider putting down the latest business read and picking up a classic.
- Outline. It might seem like a throwback to high-school English class, but creating an outline truly does make it easier to create a logical, succinct flow. It’s worth the time, and makes the actual writing go much more quickly.
- Edit. Edit. Edit. Writing is getting words down on paper. But editing is getting the right words down. Even with the most detailed research, the best outline, and the most careful writing - full of attention to grammatical detail and narrative interest - all writing benefits from being reread. Often, editing takes the form of subtracting, not adding. It’s hard to write well succinctly: as Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
- Read aloud. Rereading your work is extremely useful. When you read your work out, you always find more than you would otherwise. It may feel a bit foolish at first, but it’s worth it.
- Get a proofreader. Even for the best writer, it’s impossible to obviate the benefit of someone else reviewing your work. Whether it’s a friend doing you a favor, or someone you pay, a good proofreader can make sure that your work expresses exactly what you want without any errors distracting from your point.
Good writing may not have been a focus in your academic or professional education, but a little work to gain this skill can do wonders for your reputation, your practice, and your ability to communicate.