Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your readers must understand what you write. Okay, this may sound way too simple but communicating complex plots or topics can be a challenge. When your writing about topics you understand to an audience who is oblivious to your subject matter, this can be hard.
Good copy involves good communication, great writing demands an effortless read. There are several areas of your writing to focus on to improve readability. Here are a few:
Simple Words Make Reading Simple
Do you ever want to impress your reader with your extensive vocabulary? Don’t! Using long, complex and uncommon terms can confuse your reader into another article or a snooze. Multifarious words can give your bibliophiles a justification for dispensing your inscribing for alternatives. When your reader wears out a dictionary to figure out what you’re writing you can say good night.
Keep your words simple and to the point. Many experienced writers feel writing at an eighth-grade level will connect with most readers. . I like the synonym function in Microsoft Word to change any term I feel is too complicated.
Short Sentences Make Easy Reads
I read many articles whose writers are in love with the semi-colon and the comma. Their sentences are longer than a bad movie, which makes for bad copy. Short sentences make reading easy.
Long sentences are convoluted and will only serve to distort your idea, confuse your reader and distract them from the very important point and insights they need to understand in their stressful, busy lives with constant distractions around them. Whew! After writing that sentence, I need to take a knee. Not in protest, just to catch my breath.
Sentence structure and length should be short. When editing your work, count the commas. If there is more than one, use a period and start a new sentence. If you don’t, your reader won’t take a knee. They will just move on to the next article. Short and simple is best.
“The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs” – Stephen King
There are also too many adverbs in too much writing. But don’t take my word for it. Stephen King writes the same in his book On Writing, one of the best technical books for writers on the market. I quote,
“Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.”
I couldn’t agree more. Adverbs ruin good writing but are too easy to use. Take this sentence, He paces the floors incessantly keeping us from our sleep. Not a wrong sentence, but why the adverb – incessantly? I think this is better, His incessant pacing keeps us awake. It has a better flow and is shorter and to the point.
Non-Fiction Needs Sub Headers
When I read a novel, I like chapters with titles. It keeps me abreast of the time, location, or the changing scenes of the story. With an article, blog post, or marketing piece, sub headers do the same. It holds the reader on the point of what you want to convey. Many readers online like to skim, and sub-headers allows them to reap a lot of information quickly.
Subheaders can act as rest stops along the journey to where your writing leads them. With too much content with no break, the reader will abandon the trip and get off at the next exit.
They also keep the reader (and you, the writer) organized. The article, post, or blog will stay on point, no rambling, or going off the rails. Subheaders keeps you on track.
Passive writing is like passive anything else, it suggests fear. It says your not ready to write this project. Stay active and your copy will come alive, go passive and it will die. Most literary agents, I’ve read, will stop reading any submission in the passive voice. The same is true with non-fiction projects, a passive voice will kill it.
Let’s look at an example:
Passive: The trip was taken by Bob and Alice.
Active: Bob and Alice took the trip.
Notice the length of each sentence, the active is shorter. Also, it is less awkward and gets right to the point.
Writing in the passive voice will bore your readers and confuse them to boot. Remember, the shorter the sentence, the easier it is to understand. Active almost always use fewer words.
When reading your work takes less effort, your audience will reward you with interest. And at the end of the day, they will understand the point or plot you’re trying to communicate. That’s the name of the game for me.