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Miriam Tessens

Eight Tips for Writing a Great Paper, Blog Post or Letter

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

It never ceases to amaze me how many people cannot write a decent paper, blog post, letter or any written document. This is a tragedy. The ability to communicate well is critical in society today. So, if your writing skills need improvement, don't despair. Read on. Here are eight tips for writing a great paper. These tips are also relevant for blog posts, letter and other documents. But, I'll use the word paper for simplicity's sake.

1. Structure

The structure for any written piece is simple:

  1. In the first paragraph, tell readers what you are going to say.
  2. In the next paragraphs, say it.
  3. In the final paragraph, tell people what you've just said.

Does your paragraph tell readers what is to come or is it a long winded lead-in to the second or third paragraph which tells readers what is to come. If the latter is true, delete the lead-in paragraphs.

2. Call to Action

If you hope that people will take a particular action upon reading your paper, tell them what you want them to do. In the past, writing experts said to put the call to action at the end of the paper. I suggest you put it at the beginning and the end. With so much information available, many people do not read papers to the end. Or they only skim the paper to find the key points. However, people almost always read the first paragraph to determine whether or not a paper is interesting enough to continue to read. So, get your call to action in at the beginning and then remind the reader again at the end.

Incidentally, even if someone does not read your paper to the end, she may still follow your call to action. If you want her to attend your workshop on business negotiation, a good first paragraph or two may be enough to convince her that your workshop is worth joining. 

3. Avoid Adverbs and Limit Adjectives

Cartoon: "This blog is so well written, it just blows my mind"Unless you are are busily writing or have been unexpectedly but delightfully commissioned by the North Korean government to lovingly write a paper about their glorious leader Kim Jong-un, you absolutely and positively must avoid unnecessarily using far too many unneeded adverbs. Likewise, you must carefully avoid sloppily using too many equally unnecessary adjectives unless you absolutely need them for precise clarification.

Oops! Let's try that again: unless you are writing advertising copy or have been commissioned by the North Korean government to write a paper about Kim Jong-un, avoid adverbs and only use adjectives when necessary for clarification.

Do you see the difference between the two paragraphs above? The first was almost unreadable.  Fewer adjectives and adverbs make your writing easier and faster to read. Moreover, excessive use of adjectives and adverbs is a sign of amateurishness in writing.

4. Support Statements of Fact

If you are stating a fact that is not universally known, support it with  reference or, if your paper is on-line, a hyperlink. It is easy to make a seemingly factual claim, such as the most important character strengths for psychological well being are gratitude and love of learning. But, without a reference, astute readers will assume the fact is an assumption.

It is far more convincing and professional to write that research by Scott Barry Kaufman indicates that gratitude and well being are the most important indicators of psychological well being.

5. KISS

KISS is a acronym for "Keep it simple, sweetheart" and it is a useful acronym to keep in mind. Many people assume that using obscure words, convoluted sentences and jargon makes them seem clever. Quite the opposite. The ability to explain complex subjects in simple language impresses. It is also a great skill to have. So, simplify your writing and your choice of words as much as possible.

6. Shorten It

Once you have finished your first draft of your paper, go back and shorten it. It's too long. Trim unnecessary words, especially adverbs and adjectives. Delete those sentences that seem so clever but fail to support your point. Remove repeated points. Most people use twice as many words as necessary too make their point and the result is a more boring document. So, get rid of the excess words, phrases and sentences.

7. Proofread It

When I started writing professionally and first experienced an editor reviewing and proofreading my work, I was astounded at the number of spelling errors, typos an other mistakes that were in what I thought to be a solid piece of writing.

No one writes perfect copy on the first go. At minimum, reread your document carefully before you post it or send it. If possible, wait a day or at least a few hours before proofreading. One useful trick is to read the document backwards.

Better still, have someone else proofread your document before you post it or send it. If you are publishing the document, go one step further and hire a professional proofreader to review it. Elance and other freelancing web sites list many editors for hire at reasonable rates.

8. Break the Rules

Now that I have given you the basic rules of writing a good paper, my last rule is to feel free to break the rules from time to time − with the exception of the proofreading rule. You ALWAYS need to proofread. But you might write a document without a paragraph telling the reader what you are writing about because you want to build up suspense through a story leading up to your point. You may feel that convoluted sentences better express your point than the alternatives.

But only break the rules for a reason, not because you cannot be bothered to follow the rules.

 

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