Top 5 Strategies to Improve Your Writing


When I teach writing classes, give book talks, or generally discuss strategies for improving written communication, I often get this question: “What are the best strategies for writing well?” 

Writers (anyone who communicates through writing) can do many things to improve the clarity, correctness, and impact of their writing. Based on my years of helping clients improve their writing, here are my top 5 strategies. 

1. Use the Rhetorical Subject as the Grammatical Subject. 

The grammatical subject is the word in the “subject’s place.” Sometimes, the “doer” of the main action is not the grammatical subject (the word serving as the subject to the main verb). Consider this sentence: 

“Finding a solution is our greatest concern.” 

Here, “Finding a solution” is the grammatical subject of “is.” However, we need to ask, “What’s the action being described by this sentence?” The main action is finding a solution. Then we ask, “Who is doing this action?” The answer is “We are.” We, therefore, is the rhetorical subject and should be used as the grammatical subject. This gives us the following sentence: 

“We are most concerned with finding a solution.” 

2. Use the Rhetorical Action as the Main Verb. 

The rhetorical action is the main action described by the sentence. The main verb and the rhetorical action might not be the same. (Generally, when we are trying to identify the rhetorical subject, we first have to identify the rhetorical action.) Consider this sentence:

“I explained that good writing requires knowledge of the reader.”

Here, the subject and main verb are “I explained,” but the rhetorical action is “requires.” In clear writing, the main verb and the rhetorical action should be the same word. Using this strategy, the revised sentence is as follows: 

“As I explained, good writing requires knowledge of the reader.”

3. Keep the Subject, Verb, and Object together. 

Find your subject and main verb and place them close together. Otherwise, the reader may have difficulty understanding what you are trying to communicate, and the sentences will be unnecessarily complicated. Consider this sentence. 

“The funding proposal, which requested financial support for the new capital improvement project and was submitted by the team of regional division directors, failed to impress the investors.” 

The subject “proposal” is widely separated from the main verb “failed.” Using this tip, we get the following: 

“The team of regional directors requested financial support for the new capital improvement project, but the proposal failed to impress the investors.” 

Notice that the revised version is two independent clauses. This is fine. Notice also that both clauses have the subject and verb together and that the sentence is clearer than the original. 

Now, let’s expand on this idea further. To help readers understand your sentences with the least effort, place the object as close as possible to the main verb. Consider this sentence. 

“John fought for years and with strenuous effort his wicked tendencies.” 

In this sample, “fought” is the main verb, and the phrase “his wicked tendencies” is the object of the verb. Using this writing tip, we place the object as close as possible to the main verb. This gives us the following, easy-to-understand, revision: 

“John fought his wicked tendencies for years and with strenuous effort.” 

4. Organize Sentences to Create Transitions. 

Each sentence should create a transition from the sentence before to the sentence following, while adding new content. Also, the final sentences in a paragraph need to create a transition to the following paragraph. This gives us two principles for how we order sentences.

Consider this paragraph (plus the first sentence from the next paragraph): 

“(1) The first commercially produced simulator used to train clinicians was available in 1994. (2) The newest simulator is the SimX-4. (3) The SimX-4 is completely wireless and provides vascular access and numerous clinical scenarios, as well as the ability to customize scenarios to accommodate administering intravenous drugs. (4) Clinical simulation is being used increasingly to teach skills to clinicians. 

(5) The content of training programs for administering drugs is not changing.” 

Sentence #4 is misplaced. If we move sentence #4 to the beginning of the paragraph, it establishes the context for the entire paragraph, and it provides a transition to sentence #1 with the terms “teach” and “clinicians.” Also, now sentence #3 can make a smooth transition to the next paragraph with the terms “administering drugs.” Here is the revised version. 

“(4) Clinical simulation is being used increasingly to teach skills to clinicians. (1) The first commercially produced simulator used to train clinicians was available in 1994. (2) The newest simulator is the SimX-4. (3) The SimX-4 is completely wireless and provides vascular access and numerous clinical scenarios, as well as the ability to customize scenarios to accommodate administering intravenous drugs. 

(5) The content of training programs for administering drugs is not changing.” 

Overall, we have satisfied our two principles. Each sentence creates a transition from the previous to the next sentence, and the final sentence creates a transition to the next paragraph. The revised passage is more coherent, direct, and logical. 

5. Discuss Only One Idea Per Paragraph. 

The paragraph is the basic unit for expressing an idea, which means each paragraph only discusses one idea. 

When writing: Determine the idea about which you want to write. Then write a paragraph about that idea. You may need to determine any supporting information, which will also go in that paragraph. 

When editing: The process is the opposite. Read the paragraph and ask, “What is being discussed here?” If you cannot summarize it as one idea, the paragraph needs to be fixed. For example, you may have two separate ideas, in which case you will need two paragraphs. If you have no main idea, you may decide that the information needs to be a part of a different paragraph, or you may strike out the paragraph altogether. 

More Information about These Strategies 

These strategies and the supporting discussions were adapted from the writing instruction in 300 Days of Better Writing: A daily handbook for improving your writing. This writing guide contains 300 strategies for writing clearly, correctly, effectively and provides a more thorough discussion of these 5 top strategies to improve writing.


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